Posted at: 08/01/2007 06:19:00 PM
Updated at: 08/15/2007 01:06:13 PM
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Bridge rebuilding turns political
 

 Known dead, missing

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Numerous agencies and governments joined in a swift, unified response when the interstate bridge collapsed, but those alliances are already being tested as the rebuilding process gets under way.

At the first official airing for the Department of Transportation's preliminary design for a new bridge, a Minneapolis City Council committee found it wanting. Council members complained that it wouldn't accommodate a future light rail line and lacked features to make the bridge more like a memorial to the tragedy.

The new bridge "is going to be part of the cityscape," Councilman Don Samuels said Tuesday at the hearing. "It's going to be viewed from other bridges. It goes over city parkland. The observation from all points is going to be significant and should be considered."

Mayor R.T. Rybak raised similar concerns about the design on Monday. And state legislators will get their first chance to weigh in Wednesday, at a joint House-Senate hearing where transportation officials are likely to be peppered with questions and complaints.

MnDOT is seeking a vote of support from the City Council, called municipal consent. Without it, the bureaucratic hassle could delay MnDOT's desired completion date of the end of 2008.

"To keep the aggressive timeline, having the city's consent would certainly enhance that prospect," said Bob McFarlin, assistant to the commissioner of MnDOT. He said transportation officials don't want to go ahead with a finalized bridge design until they can achieve a "regional consensus."

The new bridge will replace the one that collapsed Aug. 1 during the evening rush hour. Divers and other rescue crews have recovered nine bodies since then. Four people remain missing in the murky Mississippi River. They are presumed dead.

Several days of stormy weather had hindered the search for the four missing motorists: Christine Sacorafas, 45, of White Bear Lake; Vera Peck, 50, of Bloomington; Scott Sathers, 29, of Maple Grove, and Greg Jolstad, 45, of Mora.

Navy divers stayed out of the river Tuesday after heavy rains overnight made the currents too treacherous to resume the search, said Randy Mitchell, a spokesman for the dive operation.

"They're working with the contractors on site to remove debris, do some maintenance work and all the operations they can outside of water work," he said.

The bridge plans unveiled Tuesday show an abstract, overhead view of a 10-lane span, two lanes wider than the old bridge. It will be up to a contractor, to be chosen from an initial field of five, to flesh out the design.

Bidding contractors must submit preliminary designs that will give a better sense of the bridge's structure and the materials they would use. Bids will probably be collected by mid-September, MnDOT said, and it would be shortly after that when the public would get a better sense of what the new bridge will look like.

MnDOT officials have projected the bridge replacement to cost between $200 million and $250 million, and they want most of the construction costs to be covered by relief money from the federal government. Officials have said they are concerned a light rail line would not get federal funding, and could also trigger mandatory environmental reviews that could also slow down the project timeline.

Meanwhile, Minnesota will get another $133.3 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to ease congestion on Interstate 35W south of the collapsed bridge, between downtown Minneapolis and the southern suburbs, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office announced.

The grant, part of a national program to cut congestion, can be used for toll lanes, bus rapid transit and bus lanes, more park-and-ride lots and efforts to push telecommuting and other traffic-reducing measures.

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Associated Press writers Martiga Lohn and Steve Karnowski contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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