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Continued: Buzz begins over the future of state transportation commissioner

  • Article by: CURT BROWN, ROCHELLE OLSON and PAT LOPEZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 7, 2007 - 6:35 AM

On Monday, Molnau continued to focus on the task of ensuring that Minnesota's bridges are safe. Nearly 400 bridges in the state are considered a high priority for inspection, she said, because they have similar designs to the I-35W bridge or carry a high volume of traffic.

The inspection work on those bridges has not begun, and MnDOT spokesman Bob McFarlin did not have a timeline, but said, "I hope that will be soon."

McFarlin also continued to decline to comment on whether construction workers on the bridge in the days before the collapse reported that it was wobbling.

On Monday, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board declined to comment on the reports. The spokesman said the issue may be addressed at an agency briefing either today or Wednesday.

MnDOT also tried to end speculation that the additional weight and vehicle traffic that the bridge has experienced since it opened in 1967 might have contributed to the collapse. Assistant state engineer Gary Peterson said enough safety designs were built in to the original bridge to accommodate today's traffic flows and commercial vehicles.

MnDOT has pulled the names and telephone numbers of bridge inspectors from the agency's website as a precaution after the inspectors started getting numerous phone calls, including some that were possibly threatening.

Also Monday, President Bush signed legislation directing $250 million to rebuild the bridge. The bill was passed by Congress over the weekend.

Meanwhile, after the first Monday rush hours since the bridge collapse, traffic officials said commuters were adapting well.

Submarine joins effort

Divers from the FBI and the U.S. Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit arrived to relieve the stretched-thin teams of area divers, but by day's end no bodies had been recovered.

Thirteen FBI divers spent Monday using submersible sonar to map the underwater disaster site. They may begin diving today. An unmanned FBI submarine equipped with sonar, lights, cameras and a grabbing arm will be used, said Paul McCabe, special agent in the FBI's Minneapolis office.

Similar FBI evidence teams have worked on death scenes ranging from the 1996 TWA Flight 800 explosion over the Atlantic Ocean to the 2003 Dru Sjodin kidnapping and murder.

The first 100-ton crane from St. Paul's Carl Bolander & Sons, hired by MnDOT for debris removal, crawled down a river road to begin the delicate job of removing concrete slabs, twisted steel and wrecked vehicles from the site.

Officials hope clearing the site will help them locate bodies and bring closure to waiting families.

"At this point, the only way to get at them will be to move the heavy debris out of the way," Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said.

A Bolander spokesman said workers would begin pulling debris and cars from the river later this week.

Investigators think the collapse began somewhere on the north side of the bridge.

An NTSB helicopter with a high-resolution camera is examining debris in precise detail. NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said salvagers will collect critical pieces of the bridge and investigators will examine them at an undisclosed location.

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