With the first anniversary of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse approaching, DFL legislators proposed a package of changes to state law Monday that they said will improve bridge safety in the state.

The legislation would require more frequent inspections and make it easier to increase the pay for engineers who work for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

Coming just two days after concrete fell from an I-35E overpass in St. Paul, the DFLers' news conference is the first step toward introducing the proposed bill in the next legislative session.

They said they all believe Minnesota's bridges are safe, "but stuff keeps happening," said Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan. "These pieces of concrete falling off bridges are dangerous, not something that needs to be treated lightly."

Under the proposal, all bridges would be inspected once a year, closing a loophole that can allow the timetable to exceed 12 months.

It would allow department engineers to be paid more than allowed under the state salary cap, which the lawmakers said would help in recruiting and retention of engineers.

That could ultimately save the state money, said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, by not having to contract out hiring to private engineers at higher salaries.

Another change would be to formally include safety in the department's statutory mission.

Between now and the beginning of the session in January, the legislators said they plan to sit down with MnDOT managers to refine their proposal.

In an e-mail, department spokeswoman Lucy Kender said Monday that officials "welcome the opportunity to work with legislators on their proposal. We will have the affected offices take a look at the bill over the next few weeks, and then we will have further discussions with legislators over the next couple of months."

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184