STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And now let's follow-up on the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis. Navy divers are among those now helping to remove debris and searching for the missing. The state of Minnesota is putting a plan to replace the collapsed Interstate 35-W bridge on what's described as the fastest of fast tracks. But commuting problems are going to get worse in Minneapolis.
From Minnesota Public Radio, Michael Caputo reports.
MICHAEL CAPUTO: The first Monday after the 35-W bridge collapsed was viewed by many as a test of a stressed road system. Todd Kramascz, operations supervisor of the state's Regional Transportation Management Center, says the morning commute was lighter than expected.
He credits carpooling, public transportation and adjusted work hours. But Kramascz says a much tougher test is coming next month.
Mr. TODD KRAMASCZ (Regional Transportation Management Center, Minneapolis): We have to deal with all the school, the college students coming back to school in September. Vacation season is over with. We're going to need to deal with all of that volume as well, and plans are in the works now to shore up some of what we've got available.
CAPUTO: The nearby University of Minnesota, for example, will have the full compliment of nearly 50,000 students in the area come September - that's 10 times the student population there now. Traffic volume for a multi-lane interstate must now be squeezed onto smaller roads like Highway 280, a four-lane road being converted into a freeway.
Cromwell Avenue in St. Paul runs along Highway 280. It's a typical street with mature trees draping small lots dotted with cozy older homes. But suddenly Craig Klein's backyard has only a wooden sound barrier between his property and a major traffic artery.
Mr. CRAIG KLEIN (Resident, Minnesota): It is a lot noisier today than it was last week. You know, since this catastrophe happened, there's no doubt you're going to notice it.
CAPUTO: Trucking firms around the state see a continuing financial headache from the bridge collapse. John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Truckers Association, says nearly 5,000 trucks each day use the route that included the 35-W bridge. Studies by the association conclude that losing the stand would mean more than a $120,000 a day in added operational costs as trucks are diverted to other routes.
Mr. JOHN HAUSLADEN (President, Minnesota Truckers Association): We've had a major artery cut and we re going to have to redirect. The bad news is that it's critical. The good news is that we have other options. But they're going to go down those other roads and it's going to cause delays, it's going to cause congestion, and we're just going to be extra vigilant.
CAPUTO: Hauling freight by barge down the Mississippi is another problem, although it won't have devastating effects. Steve Lenhart, area lockmaster for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says nothing can move from north of here until the debris from the collapse is removed.
Mr. STEVE LENHART (Area Lockmaster, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers): They're out of business here. I mean the (unintelligible) it's about eight or nine miles of the channel, they're out of business. So they re going to have to do something else to ship their commodities.
CAPUTO: More generally speaking, economists aren't worried about a major direct economic impact from the loss of the bridge. Instead, Minnesota state economist Tom Stinson worries more about what he calls the hidden costs of the collapse.
Mr. TOM STINSON (Economist): There are going to be additional commuting time for commuters. That's not going to reduce their consumption. It is going to reduce the time that they have available to do other tasks and other leisure activities.
CAPUTO: With the hopes of keeping things business as usual in his city, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak continues to make a plea to residents to lighten the load on roads by sharing rides and taking the bus.
Mayor R.T. RYBAK (Democrat, Minneapolis): If people come to you and say that they want to do something in this horrible human tragedy, you need to communicate to them that one of the things they can do that is tangible and really matters is the simple act of turning to a co-worker or a friend who lives near you and say I want to drive with you.
CAPUTO: When making that pitch to business leaders last week, the mayor urged them to help subsidize the cost of the bus passes. Meanwhile, metro transit officials in the Twin Cities say they put extra buses on the roads, hoping to help people here cope with a tough traffic situation that has suddenly become much worse.
For NPR News, I'm Michael Caputo.
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