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Continued: Delicate task of removing bridge debris to begin

  • Last update: August 6, 2007 - 12:10 AM

NTSB investigators also said they have interviewed the construction workers who were on the I-35W bridge at the time of the collapse. It is only the second time in almost a quarter of a century that a highway bridge in the United States has fallen without an immediate cause such as a earthquake or a collision.

Some workers said that the bridge had been wobbling unusually in the days before the collapse, according to Minneapolis police Sgt. Tim Hoeppner. With every layer of concrete that they removed, the bridge would wobble even more, they told him.

Rosenker would not address that issue, or go into specifics about reports that the bridge had poor inspection ratings, but he said that would be part of the investigation. "We're going to take a look at that," he said.

MnDOT's McFarlin referred questions about the possible wobble to the NTSB, saying that would be part of that agency's investigation. He later declined to comment on the wobble reports, saying he had no information on their credibility.

"We'll let the NTSB do that work and they'll assess those kinds of reports, and there are all kinds of reports about work on the bridge. We'll just have to wait for the inspectors to do their jobs," he said.

McFarlin also was asked about the number of lanes that the bridge had when it opened in 1967, and its traffic volume. The bridge has been expanded at least once -- from six to eight lanes -- and there are indications that traffic on the bridge has almost quadrupled. In the past few years, the bridge has averaged more than 140,000 vehicles a day. He promised more specifics today.

It has been estimated that a new bridge will cost upward of $200 million, and McFarlin said that MnDOT will be facing a severe cash flow problem in the coming months even with the promise of more than $250 million in federal aid.

As a result, it's possible that some current and proposed MnDOT road projects could be suspended, delayed or canceled. "We hope it doesn't happen," he said.

McFarlin also said that a memorial to the victims at the new bridge has been mentioned and will continue to be discussed.

Getting a better look

Responding to public pressure for better viewing of the site, police reopened the Stone Arch Bridge on Sunday to pedestrians and bicyclists and said they planned to reduce the area off-limits to the public by early this morning. They also are considering reopening the 10th Avenue bridge adjacent to the I-35W bridge.

The Stone Arch Bridge had been closed since Wednesday night, when thousands gathered there to watch the disaster scene just downriver. Onlookers streamed onto the span when it reopened at 1 p.m. Sunday, and an hour later some spots along its south rail were three deep with spectators craning for a glimpse.

But police lost their patience with gawkers who crossed police lines to get closer to the collapsed bridge. While violators previously had been reprimanded, on Sunday police began to arrest them, Martin said. "We've decided we'd had enough," he said at an afternoon news conference.

Martin said he expects those arrested will be charged with interfering with a death scene, a gross misdemeanor that is punishable by a year in jail and a fine of up to $3,000.

Also Sunday, police took two busloads of reporters and photographers onto the 10th Avenue bridge for an up-close look of the collapsed bridge, about 100 yards to the west of the bridge.

Each of the seven disabled sections has its own story to tell. In some places, the span fell flat; in others, it twisted to one side or fell at one end, leaving a steep slope with vehicles clinging to the pavement.

A handful of workers prowled the wreckage, while a few others floated nearby in boats. Some men in orange hardhats probed the water with long poles. A duck floated near a Coast Guard cutter.

Police tape fluttered at every trail, path, road and parking lot in a broad arc around the fallen bridge. Dozens of officers stood watch.

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