Fight Erupts over New Minnesota Bridge Transportation officials in Minnesota have released the preliminary design of the new Interstate 35 West bridge. They hope get the entire project done by the end of 2008. That worries critics who say the state isn't taking a long-term view of the bridge.
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Fight Erupts over New Minnesota Bridge

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Fight Erupts over New Minnesota Bridge

Fight Erupts over New Minnesota Bridge

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U.S. Navy divers continue to search the Mississippi River for two people who've been missing since August 1st; both were on the interstate bridge in Minneapolis when it collapsed. The death toll from the tragedy now stands at 11.

Even as recovery efforts continue, officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation are planning to build a new bridge. They set an ambitious timeline, some say too ambitious, they don't want speed to come at the expense of quality.

For Minnesota Public Radio, Tom Scheck has this story.

TOM SCHECK: The preliminary design shows not one, but two bridges side by side with five lanes of traffic moving in each direction. That's two more lanes than the bridge that collapsed. Transportation officials say they hope to have more detail on the design after they pick a contractor. For now, they're busy trying to sell the proposal to the public at open houses like this one at a local high school gymnasium earlier this week.

Unidentified Woman #1: Okay. And so it's proposed automatically?

Unidentified Man: That's right, five lanes in each direction.

Unidentified Woman #1: And then how many does it go on either side?

SCHECK: Several hundred people are moving from table to table to look at bridge drawings and ask questions. Some ask specific design questions, others want to know when the bridge will be up and running. One state estimate says it's costing commuters and employers nearly $400,000 each day the bridge is down.

John Chiglo is the project manager for the new I-35W Bridge and says he's working to get the bridge rebuilt as quickly as possible. The I-35 highway is a major artery into downtown Minneapolis and Chiglo says the lost of the bridge poses an economic strain.

Mr. JOHN CHIGLO (Project Manager, Minnesota Department of Transportation): You know, there's a hundred-and-forty-something thousand vehicles a day that were using it. They had to go somewhere and that's causing stress and strain somewhere else within the local system.

SCHECK: Chiglo estimates that the new bridge will cost between $200 and $250 million. He expects a contractor to be named in September. Round-the-clock crews will then start work with the hopes of completing construction by the end of 2008. Minneapolis resident Dan Rush(ph) likes to hear that. Rush lives near the collapsed bridge and say it's taking him much longer to get to work.

Mr. DAN RUSH (Resident, Minneapolis): It's been bad so far. And I'm worried about how bad it's going to get once the university comes back in session. And you have the additional traffic in that area.

SCHECK: But some say the designers appear to be in a rush to pour concrete and aren't thinking strategically. Others, like Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback argued that the new bridge has to meet future needs. Ryback says it should be strong enough to handle a possible commuter rail line. He says that focusing only on car traffic is wrong.

Mayor R.T. RYBACK (Minneapolis): I also don't believe people are saying in this community the most important thing to do is to have Mn/DOT build another bridge really fast. The most important thing to do is for the state to have a vision for a bridge that can serve us when it opens and into the future.

SCHECK: Transportation officials are studying the option of including commuter rail on the bridge but say that will cost more money. Several state lawmakers are also expressing concerns about the pace of the rebuilding effort. At a recent committee hearing on the bridge design, DFL state Senator Ann Rest said because investigators still don't know what caused the old bridge to collapse, building a new one too quickly might be a mistake.

Senator ANN REST (Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, Minnesota): I'm going to need a lot of redundancy in assurances that building it fast equals building it right. And I, for one, am not there yet.

SCHECK: Officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation say many other states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, have rebuilt safe bridges at a fast clip.

As the debate continues, there's one factor, though, that could delay the project. New construction can't begin until recovery and clean-up efforts are complete.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Scheck in St. Paul.

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