The Lafayette Bridge: A reason for worry in St. Paul?

The Lafayette Bridge shares many of the same concerns raised about the Interstate 35W span and is not slated for replacement until 2011.

While the state is hoping to build a replacement for the Interstate 35W bridge by the end of next year, a major bridge in St. Paul that had been deemed more worrisome and that came close to collapse before is not scheduled for replacement until 2011.

The Lafayette Bridge, a part of Hwy. 52 that carries 81,000 vehicles a day and spans the Mississippi River near downtown St. Paul, is the state's most-traveled bridge with troubles similar to the I-35W bridge.

Like that bridge, the Lafayette is "fracture-critical," meaning that if one part fails the whole bridge could fall. It also is considered structurally deficient and has a sufficiency rating just under what the I-35W span was rated.

The bridge's history includes a temporary shutdown in 1975 -- less than a decade after it opened in 1968 -- when a crack "large enough to put your arm into" was discovered in the bridge's main beam after someone noticed a 7-inch dip in the roadway, according to a newspaper report. That fracture in the southbound lane nearly resulted "in [the] collapse of the bridge," a 2006 inspection report noted. The damaged component was jacked back into place and reinforced with bolted plates, the report said.

"That's a bridge we've been watching for a number of years," said Department of Transportation spokesman Kent Barnard. He added that its condition is "nothing ominous, nothing threatening."

Experience with the bridge

"I drive across it probably two to three times a week myself, and I don't even stop and think about it," Barnard said.

Mike Legato does.

Legato, a St. Paul construction worker, says there are times, when traffic is especially heavy and cars are bumper to bumper, that he can feel the bridge rattle and shake on his daily commute.

"When you're stopped, you really feel it," he said.

He said he wasn't surprised to hear that the bridge has an even lower sufficiency rating than the collapsed I-35W span or that a replacement isn't planned for a number of years.

"The feds gotta answer to it. We talk a lot about it at work," Legato said. "They've got a system in place that they ignore."

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's Metropolitan District engineer, Khani Sahebjam, said Tuesday he knew of no plans to accelerate the timetable for reconstruction, but he acknowledged that priorities could change.

"Of course it's all tied to possible future funding," Sahebjam said. "Right now, with this situation, the focus is on bridges, so maybe bridges will be done sooner."

Bridges vibrate and are designed to, he added.

St. Paul City Engineer John Maczko was asked if the I-35W collapse will make planners less willing to wait for the Lafayette's replacement.

"I hope it has," he said. "I would think that this has shaken them [MnDOT] to the bone."

Concerns raised in 2006

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