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Look for more highway closings this weekend

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 MnDOT officials gave differing accounts of which roads would be closed when.   On Monday evening,  a MnDOT spokesman said motorists can expect detours for 280 this weekend as crews add a lane where the highway joins 35W and Highway 36.  A three-mile section of I-94 between 280 and 35W is expected to close the following weekend as crews add lanes.

MnDOT says those are among the most significant of 15 to 20 projects to add capacity to the highway system in the metro area. The endeavor will cost between $1 milliion and $2 million.

"We will be closing I-94 to accomplish that starting next weekend," said spokesman Nick Thompson.  "Our goal is to try to accomplish that in one weekend.  We will be working around the State Fair. This is a project we cannot undertake during State Fair time. So if for some reason we're not able to do it next weekend, it'll occur in September."

In addition, the state is installing cameras and vehicle detection systems to several locations to better monitor and manage traffic patterns as motorists adjust to the loss of the 35W bridge. MnDOT will also add lighting on various highways to increase safety.  

Officials also reported the department has completed urgent inspections on five state bridges that have the same design as the 35W bridge.  Engineers say they found no deficiencies and no concerns. 

MnDOT Assistant Commissioner Bob McFarlin says the department is now shifting its resources to inspecting 315 state bridges designated "structurally deficient." McFarlin says inspection of the Blatnik bridge in Duluth began Monday.  

 "The Interstate I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Bloomington, that inspection will begin Monday of next week; the Cayuga bridge, I-35E over Cayuga Street in St. Paul, that inspection will begin this Friday; the Hastings bridge will begin August 20," he said.

Also at the briefing, a Minnesota Department of Transportation engineer provided details about non-structural repair work going on when the 35W bridge collapsed.  There have been questions about whether jackhammering contributed to the collapse. 

MnDOT engineer Liz Benjamin would only say there was none at the time the bridge fell.

"All of the jackhammer work was finished by that time," she said.  "It was done probably earlier that day or the day before."

Benjamin says workers were preparing to put a two-inch concrete overlay on the center two-lane portion of the bridge when it collapsed.  

The window for companies to submit applications for building a new bridge closed on Tuesday. MnDOT officials would not say how many applications they received.  They would only say they received between two and 10.