Minneapolis will take its first tentative steps this week towards normal business after the collapse of the St. Anthony Bridge last week. The city will work with the NTSB to clear the debris of the collapse from the Mississippi River, while MnDOT will open the last of the operable exits of the I-35W on either end of the collapse:
Recovery crews using cranes and barges will start pulling cars and other vehicles from the Mississippi River by midweek as part of a $15 million debris-removal plan, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said Sunday.
Meanwhile, the FBI’s dive team soon will arrive in the Twin Cities to assist local divers who have been searching for bodies. As of Sunday night, divers had searched several submerged vehicles but had not recovered any bodies in the water.
Workers from Carl Bolander and Sons, of St. Paul, will begin moving heavy equipment to the Interstate 35W collapse site today. They expect to use at least four cranes and possibly two barges to clear the debris, a process that could take months because of the ongoing investigation.
The NTSB will need to inspect each piece of debris as Bolander hauls it onto the barge, noting its location in the debris field and presumably cataloguing it in some manner. This will keep the process slow and deliberate. It will also impact the rebuilding schedule, as no work on a replacement bridge can take place until the debris field gets completely cleared.
MnDOT wants to tackle the rebuilding project immediately — but they may have some issues even apart from the clean-up. They stated yesterday that this project may cause them to delay other projects around the state as well as shift funds away from them. The $250 million in federal dollars for the rebuild did not get addressed in this analysis, but the first off-the-cuff estimates for replacement were around $400 million, leaving MnDOT $150 million to contribute from state funds.
Taking a page from California’s recovery after the Northridge earthquake, MnDOT says they will want to offer an incentive-based contract to the builder to expedite the bridge’s replacement. They calculated that they could finish the project by the end of next year, but that financial incentives could speed the process even further. The legislature appeared less than thrilled with MnDOT’s speed in working towards a mid-September contract assignment, however. DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller warned MnDOT to wait for direction from the legislature before “narrowing things down,” a strange request considering that this is MnDOT’s entire reason for existing at all.
Meanwhile, traffic is expected to return to pre-collapse levels, which will start testing the patience of area residents:
Will free bus rides, a temporary freeway and the reopening of two closed sections of Interstate 35W help smooth the way into downtown Minneapolis this morning?
Today’s commuting times will begin to answer that question. … The I-35W bridge collapse severed a major artery for the 520,000 daily trips in and out of downtown. Cars and trucks make up almost three-quarters of those trips.
It will only get worse. The University of Minnesota has one of the largest campuses in the US, and it surrounds the area of the bridge collapse. Many students, such as my son, live nearby and do not need to use the detours, but they will find a much higher level of street traffic when school starts in four weeks. That will provide the acid test for traffic management in Minneapolis, and given the traffic performance in road construction areas, we can expect a lot of frustration and delay.
The city wants to expand the use of buses, and they have started to offer some park-and-ride services for free in the collapse area. This makes sense as a stop-gap measure, but it will be interesting to see if anyone takes advantage of it. It could be more efficient overall but less so on an individual basis.
One change that the University could make would be to offer classes at lower-traffic times. Like most schools, they offer the bulk of their classes during business hours. They could change that to offer more classes at night, or on weekends. A significant change in their schedule could have a beneficial impact on traffic, lowering frustrations not just for businesses but also for students and professors. Have they considered it? Not so far as anyone has announced, but it’s worth a look.
The best solution is to replace the bridge as quickly as possible. Hopefully, MnDOT does not have to deal with an inordinate amount of political interference to achieve that goal.