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State bridge inspections finished

ST. PAUL - All state highway bridges have been inspected since the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse, missing by three weeks Gov. Tim Pawlenty's deadline.

Seventeen of more than 4,000 bridges needed repairs or other actions after the inspections, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said Friday.

Pawlenty originally said he wanted all 13,026 Minnesota bridges to be inspected. However, he has no authority to order inspections for most local bridges, so that duty was left up to counties.

State and private inspectors looked over 3,875 state bridges and 843 local bridges that had been determined to be "structurally deficient."

MnDOT's bridge inspection program manager said this year's information will be used to plan maintenance next year. Duane Hill said the inspections revealed few major problems.

Six local bridges were closed temporarily after this year's inspections, while another six received load or lane restrictions. Five bridges needed repairs. Two of the bridges needing attention were on state highways; the rest were local or Department of Natural Resources bridges.

Post-inspection actions included lowering weight limits, restricting traffic and making immediate repairs to some bridge components.

Up to two-thirds of state highway bridges are inspected each year. Pawlenty's Aug. 2 order speeded up the process, which is scheduled to return to normal next year.

But while bridge inspections are to revert to normal, a private engineering firm continues to investigate how MnDOT inspections bridges.

PB Americas, which helped state workers inspect bridges this year, will look into MnDOT's inspection "practices and procedures." PB was hired on Pawlenty's orders.

"The collaborative approach brought our bridge inspectors and managers together, creating a shared sense of purpose to improve bridge safety throughout the state," said Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, also the state's transportation commissioner.

Molnau said completing the bridge inspections is an important step in the bridge safety review process.

"MnDOT's completion of the statewide inspections, analysis of the bridge inspection reports and the consultant's findings will enable the department and local government units to improve their inspection program and ensure safe use of all the state's bridges," Molnau said.

Legislators also are looking into MnDOT. Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, this week said the legislative probe will go beyond the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, and include a variety of bridge and highway safety concerns, as well as whether transportation receives adequate state funding.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.