Officials Warn of Possible Flaw in Nation's Bridges

Federal authorities are warning that there may be a design flaw in bridges nationwide. The problem is not limited to bridges similar to the one that collapsed in Minneapolis. They're also warning about the extra weight put on a bridge during repairs.

Two More Bodies Pulled from Bridge Wreckage

Searchers recovered two bodies Thursday from the wreckage of the collapsed Mississippi River bridge, authorities said, bringing the known death toll from the Aug. 1 disaster to seven. Up to six people are still missing.

Crews have been searching the site for the past week.

Dave Hayhoe, the police homicide unit commander, announced the recoveries ahead of a briefing on the investigation. He said the bodies were recovered by divers, but he gave no other information.

"Right now the first priority is notifying the families," Hayhoe said.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office said the first body was found shortly after noon and wasn't immediately identified.

Those reported missing include a mother and her young daughter, two other women and four men.

As the recovery operation continued Thursday, so did the investigation into the cause of the collapse. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday they had found design flaws in the bridge's gusset plates, which helped tie the steel beams together.

That prompted Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to advise states to carefully consider any additional stress placed on bridges during construction projects. An 18-person crew had been working on the Interstate 35W span when it suddenly collapsed during the evening rush hour.

J. Richard Capka, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, said Thursday that the agency would quickly advise transportation agencies around the country of steps they should take if a systematic problem with gusset plates was found, though he said no such advisory was yet in the works.

"Gusset plates have been around a long time, and they've been a reliable feature, and we have no indication that they've ever been part of a suspect bridge problem or a bridge failure before," Capka said.

"They have not concluded that they've discovered anything specific that might have contributed to the collapse," he added.

President Bush on Thursday urged caution on a proposal to raise the federal gasoline tax to repair the nation's bridges. House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, raised the possibility a day ealier.

"The way it seems to have worked is that each member on that (Transportation) committee gets to set his or her own priorities first," Bush said. "That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. Before we raise taxes, which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities."

At the bridge site, recovery crews have removed several vehicles from the river in the last two days, and Navy divers have searched for possible victims in and around the others.

In all, 88 vehicles have been located, both in the river and amid the broken concrete wreckage of the bridge, according to the State Patrol.

— The Associated Press

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