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The new Interstate 35W bridge is expected to open to traffic as early as next Tuesday, less than 14 months after its predecessor collapsed into the Mississippi River, state transportation officials said Tuesday.
A news conference with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other officials will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the 10-lane bridge to announce the exact opening time, the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced. The agency said motorists will be able to use the bridge sometime next week.
It won't be known until next week whether the construction team, led by Flatiron Constructors, will be eligible for its full $27 million in bonuses for finishing early, said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. Monday is the deadline for the firms to receive the full bonus.
Gutknecht said there will be no public open house on the bridge. "It would be great to be able to do it," he said, but such an event would delay the opening, and there were concerns because the bridge's low, freeway-style railings are not designed to keep pedestrians safe.
Construction on the $234 million project began on Nov. 1, three months to the day after the old bridge collapse collapsed into the Mississippi River on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. The contractually committed date of completion is Dec. 24, 2008.
The replacement span "will be high-quality, safe and last for at least 100 years," MnDOT said.
During the final week of construction, work crews will continue to:
• Install and test anti-icing and smart-bridge systems, which monitor the bridge's movements.
• Apply finishing and striping on the bridge deck.
• Install road signs.
• Landscape areas along the corridor.
• Install traffic signals and lights.
Late last month, the National Transportation Safety Board said it is close to identifying the cause of last summer's collapse and plans to discuss its findings at a public hearing in Washington on Nov. 13.
Thirteen people died and 145 were injured in the collapse.
In January, NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said a design error was "the critical factor" in the collapse, pointing to too-thin gusset plates -- which helped connect the bridge's steel beams. The NTSB also has focused on the weight of construction materials placed on the bridge for a resurfacing project.
The new bridge has one more lane in each direction than the one that collapsed and could be restriped to accommodate seven lanes in each direction if shoulders were omitted. The bridge also is light-rail ready, "which may help accommodate future transportation needs," MnDOT has said.