Minneapolis copes with I-35W bridge disaster

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Minneapolis experienced additional traffic detours on top of the road closings resulting from the recent Interstate 35 West bridge collapse. The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed I-94 ramps to northbound state Highway 280 and the 280 ramp to northbound I-35 West during the weekend. They reopened today, Aug. 13, at 5 a.m.

During that time, the department improved traffic flow for the additional vehicles Highway 280 now is carrying as part of the I-35W traffic reroute. The one-lane section of the ramp from north Highway 280 to north I-35 West was widened to accommodate two lanes of traffic as it merges into northbound I-35.

Local northbound Highway 280 traffic ws detoured along Terminal Road and County Road B2. Drivers were able to access northbound 280 from any of the local interchanges along the highway, but department officials encouraged drivers to use alternate routes. Drivers who wished to travel north from I-94 also could take Snelling Avenue to I-35 East or continue westbound on I-94.

The department has fast-tracked a replacement bridge over the Mississippi River and plans to have a contract to rebuild the 40-year-old bridge in September. Several new safety and traffic projects along I-94 and Highway 280 will begin in upcoming days to improve the roadways that are the primary detour routes for I-35 West.

President Bush has signed a $250 million emergency funding bill for the bridge, but Congress will need to appropriate the money to fund it. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters made an initial $5 million in federal relief available to begin restoring traffic flow, clearing debris, setting up detours and making repairs. Peters has cautioned states to carefully consider the additional weight placed on bridges during construction or repair projects.

The National Transportation Safety Board has not announced a definitive cause of the bridge collapse. However, the board has indicated stress on the gusset plates may have contributed, and one possible stress may have been the weight of construction equipment and materials on the bridge.

Peters also asked the U.S. DOT’s Office of Inspector General to assess the National Bridge Inspection Program and called on all states to immediately inspect any steel deck truss bridges similar to the I-35 West bridge.