Was Enough Money Spent on Bridge Maintenance? Could a lack of maintenance funds have contributed to the collapse of the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis? That's one of the questions likely to arise as the disaster is investigated.
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Was Enough Money Spent on Bridge Maintenance?

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Was Enough Money Spent on Bridge Maintenance?

Was Enough Money Spent on Bridge Maintenance?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here is the latest that we know about the Minnesota bridge collapse. At least seven people are believed to have died. More than 60 were injured when that major highway bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, happened during rush hour. The search resumes this morning for people in about 50 vehicles thought to be crushed in the rubble or submerged in the river.

We're going now to Jim Foti who covers transportation for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Good morning, sir.

Mr. JIM FOTI (Reporter, Minneapolis Star Tribune): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Can you just describe how central this bridge is to traffic in Minneapolis? Does everybody cross this bridge at some point or another?

Mr. FOTI: Some of our suburban residents probably don't, but everyone knows someone who crosses the bridge and that was part of what caused, probably, the overload yesterday. It was everyone trying to figure out if the people they knew were on the bridge at that time. It's one of only two north-south roads out of downtown.

INSKEEP: You're talking about the overload, meaning everybody was calling on a cell phone? People couldn't get through anywhere because everybody was thinking about it.

Mr. FOTI: Correct. There was, there were a couple of hours yesterday where cell phone coverage was very spotty. And that caused some people to panic a little bit more.

INSKEEP: So what are the questions that you're asking, or that investigators may be asking, as they begin to try to figure out what went wrong?

Mr. FOTI: Well, we've got some interesting reports. The governor said yesterday that the bridge has been inspected in 2005 and 2006 and that no structural deficiencies had been identified. But we've also got reports saying that it did have some deficiencies. And so, the contradictions between those two will be something we'll we checking into more and more.

INSKEEP: What sort of deficiencies?

Mr. FOTI: There were fatigue, signs of fatigue in some of the steel, and things like that. It's an older bridge with a sort of unusual design and some of the problem may be because of that.

INSKEEP: What was unusual about the design? I know we're going across the Mississippi River. It's a big river, it's a big span, it's a steel bridge. What was unusual about it?

Mr. FOTI: Steel girder construction and the fact that it didn't have any piers in the middle of the water. There was a 450-foot span with no support underneath it. And it had no support above, either. And so, that was part of what made it unusual. And it was not something that was ever duplicated here.

INSKEEP: Oh, an engineer was telling us earlier this morning they didn't want to have to a pier in the water because that would just be affected by the current. And you're telling me it's not a suspension bridge, it didn't have cables up above. So it was just a very, very long span is what you're saying?

Mr. FOTI: Correct. Yeah. There's a lot of barge traffic going through there and so they tried to minimize the obstruction in the river.

INSKEEP: Now, there's been some controversy over highway funding in Minnesota. Has there not?

Mr. FOTI: Yes, it's been a big topic of debate for the last couple of years. We - our legislature overwhelmingly approved a gasoline tax to increase highway funding. And the governor did not - the governor vetoed that plan. They were -the legislature was unable to override it. And so that's been going on for a couple of years, and so there's been sort of a stalemate and not much new in the way of funding for highways and repair and new highways.

INSKEEP: So there's a feeling, at least among some people, that there's been insufficient money spent on construction and maintenance?

Mr. FOTI: Yes, yes. And actually, the governor also has wanted to increase funding. He's wanted to use different mechanisms in terms of borrowing but has not wanted to raise the gas tax, so that's where the discrepancy has come in.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Mr. Foti, how are people likely to handle rush hour this morning?

Mr. FOTI: There are a bunch of different plan going on right now. Last I heard, there were going to be 25 new buses from the northern suburbs in terms of park and ride. They've converted a nearby parallel highway into a freeway. It wasn't a freeway as of yesterday. They're turning a couple of the stoplights onto permanent green and blocking all cross-traffic in the hope that that will accommodate some of what this highway was taking. But again, it's a dramatic reduction of the number of lanes available to people.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Mr. FOTI: So it's going to be an interesting morning.

INSKEEP: Jim Foti, thanks very much.

Mr. FOTI: Sure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's a reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, where a bridge collapsed yesterday, killing a number of people and wounding many. The search for the remains of those who were killed continues today.

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