MnDOT’s progress after bridge collapse

Published 9:06 am Thursday, August 2, 2012

Column: Thomas Sorel, Guest Column

On Aug. 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, a day that Minnesotans will never forget.

Thomas Sorel

Wednesday marked the fifth anniversary of this unspeakable tragedy, which took the lives of 13 people and left the lives of those who survived forever changed. The collapse had a significant effect on all Minnesotans. It also had a dramatic effect on the way in which we care for and manage the state’s transportation infrastructure.

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Since 2007, MnDOT has increased bridge maintenance staff and modified our inspection efforts to ensure that bridges with maintenance needs are identified and repaired in a timely fashion.

We have developed a system in which we integrate bridge inspection information and maintenance work. This allows us to plan and prioritize our maintenance needs as well as document and assess the benefit of the work.

We’ve changed our approach in building bridges by implementing a formal bridge design peer-review process. MnDOT now hires separate engineering firms to review bridge designs, a step that is intended to minimize the risk of a critical-design error like the one that caused the I-35W bridge to fail.  We’ve also changed policies regarding storage of material on bridges under construction to ensure that the structure is not overloaded.

We also worked hard to replace the I-35W bridge with a new structure, built it in record time, using innovative contracting and building techniques.

The result is a strong and stable structure that will serve the state for a century. And the lessons learned constructing that bridge will be used on other structures in Minnesota as well as around the nation.

Minnesota has made great strides in reducing the number of deficient state bridges through an improvement program funded by the 2008 state Legislature.

That program has identified 120 bridges on the state system that need repair or replacement by 2018. To date, 65 of those bridges have been done, and another 12 will be completed by the end of the year. And the program is on track to meet its completion goals by 2018.

MnDOT is also focusing on innovation and looking beyond 2018 in how to fund and manage transportation infrastructure. The department is now using enterprise risk management to determine what, how and when we will work on the transportation system.

We fold in quality of life research and sustainability considerations to ensure that the work that we do will sustain or improve transportation users’ quality of life efficiently and effectively.

Today it is important to reflect on and remember the tragic events of Aug. 1, 2007.  It is also important to look to the future, and continue our commitment to build a safe, dependable, high-quality transportation system through innovation, integrity and accountability.


Thomas Sorel is the Minnesota transportation commissioner.