How much does it cost when a bridge goes down?

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Minnesota transportation officials wanted to provide a quick analysis of the costs of navigating around the fallen bridge. They focused on two primary detours -- one is a route around the bridge on Interstates 694 and 94, and the other involves Highway 280.

MnDOT's director of investment analysis, Ed Idzorek, worked on the study. He says the agency chose those two main detour routes to try to keep the analysis simple.

More work in Eagan
UPS decided to shift about 20 employees away from a facility near the collapsed 35W bridge, and redistributed some to the Eagan and Maple Grove facilities.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

"We really didn't have time to think about how much would go into the local network. We were very hastily trying to prepare this," said Idzorek.

Idzorek and his colleagues wanted to get a quick snapshot of how much extra time and extra miles drivers would rack up because of those two official detours. So they looked at the extra mileage and figured out its worth.

They also computed the extra time -- typically an additional five to 10 minutes of driving on any given leg. MnDOT values that time at $13 per hour for the average driver. For truckers, it's $21 per hour.

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"When we talk to the industry, they think we're being optimistically low on that figure," Idzorek said. "They think that value should be higher, so we're probably being a bit conservative in that respect."

MnDOT's calculation puts the costs to truckers at about $27,000 a day. But that number is a small fraction of the one computed by the Minnesota Trucking Association.

Morning rush
UPS says if current conditions continue, the Twin Cities business will take a $1 million hit by the end of 2008, due to reroutings related to the bridge collapse.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

In 2000, the organization looked at what would happen to the trucking industry if a bridge were out of commission due to repairs, assuming such repairs would have to happen eventually. It just so happened they looked at the I-35W span.

The organization's president, John Hausladen, says back then, in 2000, the estimated cost to the industry of that bridge's closure was about $125,000 a day.

"So if you take that with the fuel price increases and things, we think the trucking piece could be almost twice what it was in 2000," Hausladen said.

That means the current hit would be $250,000 in extra costs per day -- that's nearly 10 times the MnDOT estimate.

Part of the difference stems from how each party values an hour of travel. The Minnesota Trucking Association sets it at $75 an hour -- $54 per hour higher than MnDOT's estimate, which comes from federal computations.

Logging delays
UPS spokesman Rommel Carlson watches as dispatcher Andrea Seleski takes care of paperwork. UPS trucks throughout the Twin Cities have been taking 20 minutes longer on their routes since the bridge collapse. That has prompted the company to alter drivers' start times.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

Both estimates put the cost of the bridge collapse at millions of dollars a week. But in the grand scheme of things, that's barely a drop in the state's $245 billion economy.

However high or low the costs to the trucking industry may be from the bridge collapse, individual businesses are trying to lessen the blow to their bottom lines.

That's true at the UPS facility in Eagan, where a parade of brown trucks lines up at the entrance, about to head out for a day's work.

The drivers, wearing the company's signature brown uniforms, are following a relatively new business map. A sister facility in Minneapolis took a big hit from the bridge collapse.

UPS spokesman Rommel Carlson says the company has had to make some big adjustments throughout its Twin Cities facilities.

Numbers may be low
MnDOT's director of investment analysis, Ed Idzorek, says the agency's cost calculations may run low now, but will likely change along with traffic flows in the coming months.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

"We looked at not only adjusting the routes to and from the Minneapolis building, but moving the routes that are domiciled in Minneapolis to St. Paul, or our Eagan facility or our Maple Grove facility," Carlson said.

These changes save some time and money. But they still involve extra mileage and longer hours for some workers. Carlson says between now and the end of 2008, the Twin Cities UPS will likely still take a pretty big hit.

"It's pretty doggone close to about $1 million in excess cost to us, as a result of what we're doing to still provide service, provide it safely, and so on," Carlson said.

That number may drop over time, because Carlson's numbers are based on the worst traffic flows the UPS drivers have experienced so far.

MnDOT has already implemented changes to help traffic and reduce extra road time, including adding traffic lanes on I-94 and making improvements to Highway 280. MnDOT says more changes are forthcoming.

So all cost projections -- whether they're from UPS, the Minnesota Trucking Association, or MnDOT itself -- are likely aiming at a moving target.

In the meantime, state officials are preparing to release a broader analysis of the costs of the 35W bridge collapse in the next few days.