An environmental group has gathered and consolidated government information on more than 300 Minnesota bridges.
Minnesotans who want to check the structural rating of their favorite bridge can now do so by computer, according to an environmental group that has organized data on 313 bridges on interstate highways, U.S. highways and state trunk highways across the state.
The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) used information from state and federal sources to compile maps, which list the bridges and their identification numbers, and the degree to which they are functionally obsolete or structurally deficient.
In the wake of the Aug. 1 collapse of the Interstate Hwy. 35W bridge in Minneapolis, citizens need more information about bridges, said Jim Erkel, MCEA land use and transportation director. "We're at a tipping point right now because of the bridge collapse," he said. "By looking at maps and talking with their elected officials, people can influence whether a special legislative session takes place and what comes out of it in terms of additional funding for roads and bridges."
The organization's website allows people to look at a state or metro map to see whether a bridge in their vicinity is deficient. They can then use its ID number to learn about the bridge's year of construction, average daily traffic, most recent inspection date and structural status. Tables also list the counties and legislative districts for each bridge, names of the state senators and representatives, and how they have voted on recent transportation funding bills.
The report does not include county, city and township bridges, or those that are owned privately by utilities and railroads.
Lucy Kender, director of communications for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said she has no problems with how the environmental group consolidated the state's information.
However, Kender advised citizens to pay attention to the definitions of "structurally deficient" and "functionally obsolete," which she said are government classifications and do not mean bridges are unsafe. She noted that Minnesota has received high ratings nationally for its bridge maintenance.
But Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said Minnesota has been shortchanging its transportation system and bridge repairs for years. "It's taken us 30 years to get into this situation and it'll take at least 10 years and a lot of hard work to get out of it," he said, including higher taxes to finance the work.
Murphy said the environmental group did a remarkable job of consolidating information and making it accessible. "The only thing I wish they would have done is hung a price tag on each bridge, because this is a multibillion-dollar problem," he said.
Tom Meersman 612-673-7388
Tom Meersman firstname.lastname@example.org