State officials say they're making progress responding to bridge inspection shortcomings.
Rusting gusset plates on the Winona Bridge underscore Minnesota's aging transportation infrastructure. State bridge inspectors on a routine inspection last week spotted the spreading corrosion, made a repair and slapped on some weight restrictions. The episode illustrates the problems associated with that 69-year-old structure and dozens of other spans around the state.
The 2007 collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis put bridge safety at the top of the state's transportation agenda. In 2008, a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found problems with the Minnesota Department of Transportation bridge inspection system.
The Auditor's report cited untimely bridge inspections, with only 85 percent of bridges inspected within the federal 24-month standard. MnDoT had too few inspectors and documentation of maintenance performed following bridge inspections was inadequate.
MnDoT bridge construction and maintenance engineer Tom Styrbicki said the problems including too few inspectors have been addressed.
"Since that time we've added 44 permanent full time positions," Styrbicki said. "That's a pretty significant jump from 110 to 154."
Lawmakers jumped in approving spending on a huge bridge replacement program. The plan is to spend up to $2.5 billion from now until 2018, much of it borrowed money.
There are about 20,000 bridges in Minnesota that range in size from small spans on city and county roads to big ones such as the Winona Interstate Bridge, the Hastings bridge and the Lafayette bridge in St. Paul. All are scheduled for major repair or replacement.
Work on a new $120 million Hastings bridge begins this fall, and work on a new $189 million Lafayette bridge begins next year. A decision on repair or replacement of the Winona Bridge will also happen but is complicated by the structure's national historic designation.
The state counts 120 bridges on larger roads that are obsolete and structurally deficient. Several dozen smaller bridges on city and county roads also fall into the category.
MnDoT's Tom Styrbicki said there's money to repair and replace many but not all of them.
"In terms of replacement, I think it would probably be less than that full 170, but probably 150 or so bridges that'll be replaced in those ten years," Styrbicki said.
Styrbicki said Minnesota ranks among the top five states for having very few structurally deficient bridges.
When the Legislative Auditor's office checked back after its initial report it noted MnDoT's improvements, including more agency inspectors and better record keeping.
Go to Transportation Nation for more of the latest transportation news from all across America.