As construction draws closer to completion in Minneapolis on a replacement for the I-35W bridge that collapsed in August 2007, work also is continuing on federal reports that could have an effect on bridge programs and policies.

New I-35W bridge nears completion.
Minnesota DOT
New I-35W bridge nears completion.

Leading the list is the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the Minneapolis collapse. NTSB is aiming to release the report by the end of the year, probably “sometime in November,” says spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz. It will include a finding on the collapse’s probable cause and recommendations to prevent such events in the future, he adds.

The cause of the collapse “is the greatest unsolved mystery that we have right now,” says Doug Hecox, a Federal Highway Administration spokesman. For months, there has been “a lot of armchair engineering going on,” he says. When NTSB issues its report, “we know it is going to be the final word” on the collapse, Hecox says.

Bridge Reports
Final report on I-35W bridge collapse. Expected late 2008. Will include probable cause, safety recommendations.
U.S. DOT Inspector General: Three Reports
On FHWA actions regarding IG recommendations on structurally deficient bridges. Expected later this summer.
Study of federal bridge program and states’ use of funding. No release date yet.
Review of FHWA oversight to ensure National Highway System bridge safety. No release date set yet.
Study of goals, performance measures for highway and bridge program.

In January, Mark Rosenker, NTSB’s chairman, said some gusset plates on the bridge were about half as thick as required. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has “understood the concern about the gusset plates,” says Ken Kobetsky, AASHTO program director for engineering. In May, the group’s standing committee on highways approved an allocation of $1 million for research on gusset plates.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation Inspector General’s office has three bridge-related reports in the works. Closest to completion is a study of FHWA’s progress in carrying out earlier recommendations by the IG on structurally deficient bridges. The report is to be released later this summer, says Madeline Chulumovich, IG office spokesperson.

The IG also is studying the federal bridge program and states’ use of federal bridge aid, and examining FHWA oversight to ensure bridge safety. No release date has been set for those two reports.

In addition, the Government Accountability Office is doing a study of goals and performance measures that may be needed for the federal highway and bridge program.