As divers struggled with the river, politicians sounded optimistic about moving quickly to design a replacement.
Calling for a 10-lane bridge that would meet the growing demands of Twin Cities commuters, political leaders on Tuesday described a replacement for the collapsed Interstate 35W span that would be built swiftly, "right and safe."
The successor to the eight-lane bridge will be two spans with five lanes in each direction, including a transit option, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said as the state moved to have eligible design-build teams for the new bridge construction in place by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, Navy and FBI divers searched the tangled wreckage for bodies, and four victims were upgraded from critical to serious condition at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Divers began their search at 2 a.m. Tuesday in the murky, fast-moving river, now presuming that the remains of the at least eight people missing are mired in the mangled bridge and crushed cars. No remains were recovered Tuesday.
The water flow and temperature should have allowed any bodies to rise to the surface within a day of Wednesday's bridge collapse. "That leads us to believe there's entrapment here," said Capt. Bill Chandler of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
Elite teams of divers, most tethered to the surface, are finding the wreckage especially tricky. Authorities say waiting families are somber but understanding when officials explain the time-consuming job of mapping out points of entry for divers in the twisted debris.
"Just look at the scene and the magnitude of the devastation out there. It's treacherous and hazardous," said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.
Only one victim remained in critical condition at HCMC on Tuesday. Five other survivors remained in less serious conditions at HCMC and other area hospitals.
The governor said the replacement span will be built swiftly but the Republican National Convention meeting in September 2008 "will not dictate the timetable for this bridge."
MnDOT officials have said a new bridge could be completed as soon as the end of next year. On Tuesday, officials declined to provide details about the time frame, cost estimate or design wish list. But their staff members met privately to work out some guiding principles.
Pawlenty and Rybak met for an hour behind closed doors with Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau, Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell and numerous other city, state and federal officials.
John Chiglo, MnDOT project manager for the new bridge, said the bridge is likely to be two parallel spans. He said MnDOT does not typically put bicycle or pedestrian trails on interstate bridges unless demand warrants them.
Though short on details about the replacement bridge, officials emphasized a cooperative spirit. Rybak said "these are unique times that require unique partnerships." The DFL mayor has been a strong proponent of transit for the commuters who stream into the city to work and play daily.
The Republican governor has been less of a transit cheerleader, but sounded as if he is on board with what he called doing "due diligence" to "incorporate some form of transit vision" for the new bridge.
Contractors have until early today to submit their qualifications to build the bridge. Molnau said the state will limit the pool by Friday. Construction could begin within a couple of months.
Crime lab underwater
Dive teams from the U.S. Navy and FBI entered the Mississippi River at 2 a.m., facing the dangers of twisted debris. "They are specially trained to penetrate wreckage like this," said Capt. Rich Hooper, who supervises the Navy divers, who work in two eight-person shifts, using underwater torches and saws to cut away concrete and rebar.