Senate-House panel to examine collapse

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2007 - 10:43 PM

The bipartisan committee will focus on transportation policies and the response to bridge inspection reports.

Legislative leaders announced Tuesday that they are launching a bipartisan, joint Senate-House probe of the I-35W bridge collapse on Aug. 1, one that will specifically focus on the state's transportation policies and the response by state transportation officials to bridge inspection reports in recent years.

Committee members will examine those reports from the past 40 years, particularly those in the years since 1990, when the bridge was first rated structurally deficient.

Members will examine whether decisions by the transportation department or other state officials contributed to the collapse.

Members also plan to examine officials' response to the collapse and whether the agency is adequately staffed to inspect, maintain, repair and replace highway bridges. It will also draw upon work from the Office of the Legislative Auditor, which evaluated Minnesota highway spending in 1997.

"Early on, we promised Minnesotans we would find out why this bridge collapsed," a news release quoted House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher as saying. "It is vital that we answer that question to help restore the public's confidence in our transportation system."

The committee doesn't plan to overlap its work with the National Transportation Safety Board, which seeks to identify the physical failures that caused the bridge to collapse. It also is separate from both houses' transportation committees, which plan to hold a joint hearing today on rebuilding plans for the bridge.

Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston and Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, will lead the 16-member committee, composed of 10 DFLers and six Republicans. It will include eight members from both the House and Senate.

One Republican member, Sen. Mike Jungbauer of East Bethel, said the imbalance of the parties on the committee "shouldn't be a stumbling block. We all want to come up with the best solution. And we need to deal with it quick."

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