Costs of rebuilding the I-35W bridge go beyond concrete and steelby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
This is the first full week of work on the new $234 million I-35W bridge. But the cost and the challenges of building a new bridge don't end with concrete and steel. State, local and federal officials have to deal with everything from lost parking spots to threats to the pearly eyed mussel.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Crews have started doing preliminary work, like surveying, but they won't be able to start construction until all of the debris from the old bridge is cleared away.
Standing on the 10th Avenue bridge overlooking the collapsed bridge site you can see that all of the concrete and steel have been cleaned out of the Mississippi River and crews are almost done clearing the debris on land. But the impact of the bridge collapse is still being felt far and wide.
"It's just sort of New York City now," says Melissa Bean, executive director of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.
Bean's neighborhood is just north of the site and right in the thick of the bridge collapse. There are more cars cruising through her neighborhood as commuters try to get from the interstate to downtown, Bean says. It's going to get noisier when full scale construction begins on Nov. 1. That's when the heavy equipment will show up. MnDOT officials said in a report to the federal government "it's likely that 24 hour construction may occur during some of the construction phases." The neighborhood is a bit nervous about the next 14 months, Bean says.
"I guess we'll have to see what that entails -- what kind of construction noise will be going on. There are lots of residents in the neighborhood who live pretty darn close to that construction site and I'm sure they will be bothered. At this point I just don't know what to expect."
The city of Minneapolis is applying for $65 million in federal aid to cover the cost of losses from the collapse. The requests cover future paving costs, lane re-striping and other public works projects. There's also lost parking meter revenue. A report said the city applied for $1.2 million to cover parking meter revenue along University and Hennepin Avenues. Those parking spaces were lost when the streets were widened to accommodate increased traffic.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says the city is working to get as much emergency money as possible.
"There's no way that you can recoup all of the costs from that even though it was a federal bridge maintained by the state that happened to fall in the city. We're trying to make sure we get as close as possible as recouping as much of that as we can.
Hennepin County, St. Paul and Falcon Heights are also seeking aid because of the infrastructure stress caused by the bridge collapse. Other costs will cover the purchase of property. MnDOT says it will acquire a plumbing business, a day care and a vacant lot for the project. All of these requests have pushed the total price tag for rebuilding the bridge to more than $400 million.
Some aspects of the rebuild don't come with big price tags. The agency also assured a historic preservation group that they will protect three historic properties near the site. Those sites are the 10th Avenue bridge, the Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam and a stone retaining wall on the north side of the river.
And then there's the Higgins eye pearly mussel, a federally protected endangered species. It doesn't live in the Mississippi near the bridge site, but it is prevalent five miles downstream near the Ford Dam in St. Paul. MnDOT and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the rebuild should have no effect on the mussel or any other critical habitat. Macalester College biology professor Dan Hornbach agrees. The construction shouldn't have an impact on the Higgins eye pearly mussel as long as the contractor takes the necessary precautions, he says.
"Since there are no populations of this endangered species right at the I-35W site. The downstream site in pool two is only at risk if there are some unusual releases of sediment or toxins."
MnDOT is required to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service immediately if there is a contaminant spill at the site.
Even though work is underway, not all of the funding is in place. A special panel of state lawmakers is scheduled to meet on MnDOT's funding request this Monday afternoon. The Pawlenty administration is asking the panel for $195 million in extra spending authority to rebuild the bridge. The federal government has promised to pick up most of the bridge costs but a lot of that money hasn't come through.
- Morning Edition, 10/15/2007, 7:40 a.m.