Collapsed Bridge Passed Last Inspection

Minnesota bridge inspectors found no structural flaws last year or the year before in the interstate bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.

"They notified us from an engineering standpoint the deck might need to be rehabilitated or replaced in 2020 or beyond, but no immediate or structural problems with the bridge," Pawlenty said at a news conference in Minneapolis.

Road crews had been working on the 40-year-old bridge's deck, joints, guardrails and lights this week, with lane closures scheduled overnight on Tuesday and Wednesday. The state Department of Transportation couldn't immediately say whether some lanes were closed when the bridge failed during the evening rush hour.

"None of it would be related to the structure," said Bob McFarlin, assistant to Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau, who was on her way back from a conference in China after being informed about the tragedy.

McFarlin said the road work was "routine, minor maintenance." The contract for the work was worth about $9 million. He said construction workers were on the bridge when it collapsed and not all of them had been accounted for.

The bridge was scheduled for another inspection this fall, he said.

A MnDOT timeline for construction projects slated the bridge for a replacement sometime between 2015 and 2023, at an estimated cost of $122 million, according to a 2008 transportation plan posted on the agency's Web site.

The eight-lane bridge was the first of its size to get a computerized anti-icing system in 2001, according to another report on the site. McFarlin said that system sprayed deicing chemicals on the road deck during certain winter weather conditions, the same chemicals that would otherwise be applied by road crews.

"It's not part of the structure of the bridge," he said.

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy said the condition of bridges in Minnesota generally has been a topic of concern, but he couldn't recall the Interstate 35W Mississippi River bridge coming up during those discussions.

"I know the work that many of the bridge inspectors do for the state of Minnesota, and we do really good work," said Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. "If they said that that bridge in 2006 was in good shape, I believe it was in good shape. What happened today, it's probably going to be weeks or months before we know."

The state Emergency Operations Center opened Wednesday evening in downtown St. Paul to offer state assistance to Minneapolis responders dealing with the tragedy, said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht.