I-35W bridge not the only one getting a second look

Hastings Bridge
The bridge over Highway 61 near Hastings, Minn. MnDOT has released a consultant's report that highlights deterioration on the bridge.
MPR Photo/Toni Randolph

Twenty minutes from downtown St. Paul, Hastings, Minn., sits next to a narrow stretch of the Mississippi River. Highway 61 shrinks from four lines to two where it crosses the river, on a bridge built in 1951.

Shawn Harrer lives in Hastings; he crosses the span at least once a week, and feels confident about it.

"We do trust the state government that the inspectors are inspecting it properly and they wouldn't put us in jeopardy if it wasn't safe," says Harrer.

But others feel differently. Alice is a mother who lives in Hastings. She didn't want to give her last name. She says she crosses the bridge nearly every day, because she has few options. She says she worries about its condition, but she tries to put those thoughts out of her mind.

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"You can see when you go over the bridge that there are parts that are decayed away," says Alice.

I'm kind of amazed that it's gotten to the state it's in and you look at it and you wonder if you ever want to drive over the bridge again. Visibly it's really pathetic

Tom Hultberg has noticed similar conditions on the bridge. He manages the Spiral Foods Co-op on Main Street in Hastings, and he sometimes walks under the bridge.

"I'm kind of amazed that it's gotten to the state it's in and you look at it and you wonder if you ever want to drive over the bridge again. Visibly it's really pathetic," says Hultberg.

MnDOT is planning a repair project for this summer. The bridge will be limited to one-way travel for three months.

Ken Johnson is MnDOT's South Metro Area Engineer. He says for most of that time crews will be sand-blasting and painting.

"Certain areas, the paint is actually worn off to the degree there's corrosion occurring, so we need to repaint that area so the salt spray and water cannot get to the steel part of the structure," explains Johnson.

Johnson says the paint job, and some slight structural work, should keep the bridge safe for ten more years.

But a consulting firm that inspected the bridge in August, after the I-35 bridge collapse, says it probably needs a lot more than that.

Hastings Bridge
The Hastings Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River near Hastings, Minn.
MPR Photo/Toni Randolph

The report calls attention to trusses pitted and thinned by corrosion. It says MnDOT should take another look at the load rating for the bridge.

It says one of the concrete piers or abutments seems to be moving. And it says all of the steel bearings that move to allow for expansion and contraction should be replaced. MnDOT only plans to replace one of them.

Local officials in Hastings are frustrated with MnDOT. Danna Elling Schultz is a member of the city council. She says the agency promised the town a new bridge would be built in ten years -- but that was ten years ago.

"MnDOT came to us and said get ready and then it stopped, they were gone. our city staff had conversations with mndot, and it would be 'there's not enough money, there's not enough money, there's not enough money,' " says Elling.

Elling Schultz attended a news conference this morning, where DFLers blasted Gov. Tim Pawlenty on the Hastings bridge and other transportation issues. Senator Katie Sieben represents the area.

"We've passed comprehensive bills the past two legislative sessions, that have been struck down by the Governor. He wants it to look like he's doing something to address the real needs of state, but really it does nothing to help these hundreds of trunk highway bridges that need repair and need replacement," says Sen. Sieben.

Gov. Pawlenty is proposing to invest $225 million in bridges, part of a bonding package that would borrow just over one-billion-dollars. But that wouldn't change the schedule for the the Hastings bridge replacement.

DFLers say they'll offer a comprehensive transportation package relying on an increase in the gas tax and license tab fees.

MnDOT plans to review the load rating of the Hastings bridge, as the consultant recommended. And now, after the NTSB report on the I-35 bridge collapse, MnDOT will also check the gusset plates on the Hastings bridge.