State nears end of nearly 4,000 bridge inspections


One-third of the 15 bridges had problems serious enough that they were closed. Some reopened after repairs. The Red River Bridge on Highway 3 in Norman County will stay closed until it's replaced.

Mick Alm, Norman County highway engineer, says the damaged bridge will be replaced as soon as the funding comes through from North Dakota.

"It finally came to the point that we felt we had to close the bridge, because we felt that it was not appropriate to keep it open," says Alm.

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Alm says he's sure that local engineers and inspectors across Minnesota are taking a second look at county bridges after the 35W bridge collapsed on Aug. 1.

They may have been following the lead of Gov. Pawlenty, who ordered MnDOT officials to inspect the nearly 4,000 state highway bridges by the end of the year.

Duane Hill, MnDOT's statewide bridge inspection coordinator, has been leading the effort. He says inspectors uncovered what they call "critical findings" in 15 state and local bridges.

"Critical findings are something that was identified during the inspection that could potentially lead to a failure with the bridge in the next year if it's not addressed," says Hill.

Hill says two other bridges are closed right now. One crosses the Redwood River in Lyon County. The other is on State Forest Road 222 at Trout Creek in Wabasha County. The Highway 11 bridge that crosses the Red River in Kittson County was also closed, but reopened after it was repaired.

Hill says repairs have been made to four other bridges on the list. Weight restrictions have been placed on three bridges, and traffic was rerouted on a bridge in Faribault County. A bridge in the city of Carver is also expected to close. Only pedestrians are allowed on the bridge right now.

Hill says the public should not be alarmed that bridges are on the list. He said it's a part of the annual maintenance and inspection process.

"We try to address many many different maintenance issues with our bridges, so I guess I'm not surprised by the findings because it's pretty typical of what we find during a normal inspection process," says Hill.

One of the bridges on the list has already been replaced. Cottonwood County engineer Ron Gregg says the county replaced the bridge on Township Road 38 last week. He said they got the money after another road project in the county was delayed.

But Gregg warns that other infrastructure problems are on the horizon. He said he had to impose weight restrictions on nearly 12 other bridges in his county.

"Most of those that are currently in Cottonwood County that are deficient in that manner are in low-volume, low-township roads. Nevertheless, they still are a concern to us, and we need to keep our attention on those and move forward in getting those replaced," says Gregg.

Gregg said he isn't concerned about the safety of the bridges as long as motorists take notice of the weight restrictions.

The city of Minneapolis also placed a weight restriction on the St. Anthony Parkway bridge in the northeast part of the city.

Mike Kennedy, the director of transportation, maintenance and repair with the city of Minneapolis, says the city made repairs to the bridge after MnDOT inspectors found some problems. He said they will also monitor the bridge monthly until it's replaced within the next two years.

"Because this is a 'fracture critical bridge' and it's in the condition that it's in, and now that MnDOT has made us aware of some additional issues out there," says Kennedy. "This one is the one that is being watched the most. The rest are being watched pretty much on a routine basis."

"Fracture critical" means like the 35W bridge, a failure of one component could cause the entire span to fall down.

Even though the number of critical findings identified by the inspections is not unusually high compared to other years, the results will factor into the debate over transportation funding in next year's legislative session.

Many state lawmakers say there's not enough money right now to fix all the state's roads and bridges, and they're looking for new funding sources to try to remedy that.