On her third trip to Minnesota since the bridge crashed down last Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters stood just steps from the bridge wreckage with local, state and federal officials bearing news of more help for Minnesota.
"The president made it very clear: this bridge will not get stuck in red tape. And I am here to deliver on that pledge," she said.
The $50 million the state is getting from the Bush administration really isn't new money. Instead it is an advance on the $250 million Congress has authorized for the 35W clean-up and reconstruction. The $50 million is coming from the Department of Transportation "emergency relief" fund. The money will flow through the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
"The money can be used for any of the... emergency recovery capabilities removing, the debris, preparing the area for the eventual reconstruction of the bridge, temporary traffic routing such as is being done on some of the freeways here," Peters said.
The $50 million advance comes on top of the $5 million the Bush administration immediately made available to Minnesota following the collapse.
There have been repeated assurances from the Bush administration that all efforts will be made to cut through governmental red tape to ensure Minnesota's bridge can be rebuilt as quickly as possible.
DEMOCRATS URGE CAUTION
But the elected Democrats present for the announcement cautioned that care must be taken not to move too quickly at the expense of the best possible replacement bridge.
"Of course we want to cut that red tape, but that does not mean cutting important environmental safety and equal opportunity standards," said 5th District DFL Congressman Keith Ellison, who represents Minneapolis.
In addition to the $50 million advance, Secretary Peters announced another $5 million is coming to Minnesota to help offset additional public transportation costs. That money can used for mass transit traffic mitigation efforts related to the bridge collapse. The Metropolitan Council is estimating that it will spend upwards of $30 million accommodating mass transit needs during the bridge reconstruction.
TWO MORE VICTIMS NAMED; ANOTHER VICTIM RECOVERED
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner confirmed Friday the identities of two of the bodies found near the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
They are Sadiya Sahal, a 22-year-old mother from St. Paul, and her 2-year-old daughter Hanah. Their bodies were found Thursday.
Another body was found at about noon Friday. The pace of recovery has quickened since Navy divers joined an effort led for most of the first week by local dive teams. Five people were known dead soon after the Aug. 1 collapse, but eight more were listed as missing and presumed dead.
NEW PHOTO 'INTERESTING DEVELOPMENT'
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker said investigators had an "interesting development" on Thursday when they received a still photograph of the bridge taken by someone flying overhead before it fell. He said the picture clearly showed where loads and equipment were located on the bridge and will help with the analysis of what caused the collapse.
Rosenker said that if investigators identify any "glaring safety gap" that might apply to other bridges they would alert authorities around the country to prevent a similar tragedy.
WEEKEND HEADACHES FOR COMMUTERS
Meanwhile, commuters in the Twin Cities metropolitan area continue to adjust to the collapse of the. This weekend, MnDOT will close the major alternate route to 35W, to make it more accessible to traffic before the start of the new work week.
Veronica Ochoa, who travels from Minneapolis to her job at the Cathedral of St. Paul, prides herself on being flexible; she doesn't take the same roads to work everyday. But like many Twin Cities commuters, Ochoa has had to try some new routes after the collapsed bridge made a two-mile segment of I-35W in Minneapolis unusable. She's taking city streets, and she changed her schedule.
"I've actually started working later and I leave later. For me, it's not worth it. My heart's already beating fast from my French press. I don't need traffic stress," she said.
But general traffic patterns since the bridge collapse suggest that most people are commuting much earlier.
"Traffic from the north is starting to begin earlier. A lot of motorists had the idea to start their day earlier," according to Todd Kramascz, operations supervisor at the state's Regional Transportation Management Center. "The a.m. peak starts around 5 - 5:30 in the morning."
One of the motorists who has decided to leave much earlier is Jerry Rossow, who drives from St. Paul to the Minnetonka marketing firm he owns. Rossow says his biggest challenge is adjusting to the crop of new drivers who are streaming onto I-94, the people who haven't yet figured out changing lanes and traffic patterns.
"When you drive it everyday, you know what lanes to be in and some lanes just drive better than other lanes. That whole formula has changed because everyone has a new route, even if it's the same way they've driven, they're finding it's different. I expect that it will become more differen," he said.
NEXT CHALLENGE: BACK TO SCHOOL
Transportation officials warn that the big test will come when the University of Minnesota students arrives in a few weeks.
The challenges for motorists will be compounded this weekend when state transportation officials close the primary detour for I-35W in order to improve it. Until Monday morning, northbound Highway 280, the designated primary alternate to I-35W, will be closed so that sections of the roadway can be widened for traffic.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)