State moving too quickly on bridge replacement, some pols say

Aerial view
An aerial view shows the collapsed I-35W bridge.

Lucy Kender, a spokeswoman for MnDOT, wouldn't provide details on the replacement except to say it will include two five-lane bridges. She says there is also the possibility of including bus rapid transit and a memorial commemorating those who died in the bridge collapse.

But Kender says any other amenities are unlikely unless more funding is available. The federal government has pledged $250 million to the rebuild, but placed restrictions on how the money can be spent. Kender says that may mean bikeways, light rail, or walkways will not be included.

"We can't say 'no' to it right now. Maybe there are other ways that none of us know right now that are possible to do that. But we've done our preliminary work based on the federal highways eligibility criteria," she said Monday.

Build it fast
"We need to build this bridge. We need to build it expeditiously and we need to build it safely," MnDOT spokeswoman Lucy Kender said.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

MnDOT will hold an open house on Thursday at Roseville High School to discuss its preliminary ideas on the bridge. Kender says the public will be able to provide input on the design, but it's not clear if those suggestions will be considered. Kender said the public meeting will focus more on the process of building the bridge.

When asked if MnDOT would disregard the opinion of state lawmakers who may want to spend more money so other amenities would be included, Kender said, "certainly we're listening to them, but I don't want you to think that ... money equals slowing down. We need to build this bridge. We need to build it expeditiously, and we need to build it safely."

MnDOT is operating on an accelerated pace to get the bridge rebuilt. But officials have offered few details, refusing to release an estimate of how much they think it will cost to rebuild the bridge.

They also haven't released the incentive package that they would offer the contractors to get the bridge finished before the end of next year.

Five teams of contractors have been invited to provide designs and cost estimates on the bridge redesign. MnDOT hopes to see those designs soon and select a contractor by Sept. 1.

That process is moving too quickly for Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the Senate Transit Subdivision. Dibble says members of the House and Senate Transportation committees will be asking plenty of tough questions at a Wednesday hearing on the bridge redesign.

"We don't want to bog this thing down, and add a year on to the discussion and the construction process. No one is advocating that," Dibble said. "But it's absolutely mandatory that we open up some space for some public input, and a larger public discussion about a bridge that is so important to our entire state."

Dibble said one option would be to consider light rail transit on the bridge.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is also pushing for a rail component to the new bridge. Rybak is urging Gov. Pawlenty and MnDOT officials to consider all options. He says it may be better to consider routing the proposed Central Corridor line between Minneapolis and St. Paul on the I-35W bridge, instead of another bridge.

"If we rush to do this bridge before asking that question, and then turn around and have to spend many millions more -- by reinforcing the Washington Ave. bridge or possibly having to build a tunnel if it goes instead in front of Coffman Union at the university -- we will have done ourselves a disservice. It will be a waste of the taxpayers' money and we could have missed a big opportunity," said Rybak.

A statement from the Metropolitan Council Monday afternoon appears to close the door on Rybak's rail idea. The statement says MnDOT Commissioner Carol Molnau and Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell have recommended to Gov. Pawlenty that no further study be done on incorporating the Central Corridor LRT project into the new bridge. The statement said the decision was made to move quickly on the rebuilding of the bridge.

There is a possibility that Rybak and the city of Minneapolis could delay the project if it's not to their liking. Rybak said the city has to provide municipal consent for the project to move forward. Rybak wouldn't say if he would withhold that consent, but said he wants a full discussion on the bridge design.