ST. PAUL - A group of Minnesota lawmakers today unveiled legislation that will improve bridge safety across Minnesota. The recommendations are based on two independent legislative studies completed in the months following last year's collapse of the 35W Bridge in Minneapolis. The package of legislation includes provisions for more frequent inspections of Minnesota bridges, would make it easier for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to attract top-flight engineering talent and include safety in the agency's primary mission.
The lawmakers include Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL Minneapolis), Chair of the House Transportation and Transit Policy Subcommittee, Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL Brooklyn Park), Rep. Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter), Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL Minneapolis) and Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan). The lawmakers say the recommendations are critical as state transportation leaders continue to work to restore Minnesotan's confidence in their system of roads and bridges.
"A year ago, state and federal officials promised to ensure that something like the 35W Bridge collapse never happens again," said Rep. Hornstein. "As a state, it is important for us to continue to take the steps necessary to follow through on that promise."
Earlier this year, the Office of the Legislative Auditor and Gray Plant Mooty law firm delivered investigative reports to bi-partisan legislative committees. In both cases, staff spent hundreds of hours interviewing MnDOT employees, reviewing inspection reports and other documents, as well as talking to other experts before making their recommendations.
"Those reports identified many issues that both the investigators and MnDOT employees wanted resolved," said Sen. Scott Dibble. "Although we have already seen some important changes at MnDOT, this legislation will help continue the dialogue with the agency about other improvements that can be made to improve safety and efficiency."
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board focused on the collapse of the 35W Bridge continues. That investigation is expected to conclude later this year.
"The bridge collapse has caused people to look more closely at the roads and bridges they drive every day," said Rep. Melissa Hortman. "We have to be better prepared to help Minnesotans understand how decisions are made about the repair and replacement of their roads and bridges. This legislation will help accomplish that goal."
The lawmakers say the incident this past weekend with the Maryland Avenue Bridge on 35E in St. Paul underscores the need for frequent inspections of bridges throughout Minnesota. On Saturday, large pieces of concrete broke away from the overpass and fell onto cars passing under the bridge.
"I think it is a reminder to us and all Minnesotans just how important maintenance is right now across our transportation system," said Sen. Jim Carlson.
"Our goal is to address safety issues throughout Minnesota," said Rep. Terry Morrow. "As we have seen with the St. Cloud, Winona and Duluth examples, bridges in Greater Minnesota have concerns as well".
The bridge safety legislation will be formally introduced early next year when the 2009 legislative session gets underway.