A top Minnesota highway manager insisted on June 23 that money woes didn’t compromise bridge safety, responding to a harsh assessment of the maintenance of the interstate bridge that collapsed last summer, killing 13 people.
In a 12-page letter delivered to lawmakers, Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel insisted bridge safety “has not been compromised because of funding considerations.”
Sorel also disputed a claim that his department ignored the advice of an engineering firm it had hired to review the bridge’s integrity. He noted that the agency was working through URS Corp.’s recommendations at the time the Interstate 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River.
An investigative report released last month by a law firm hired by the legislature said money worries, imprecise inspections and disregard of policies at the department may have led to bad maintenance decisions ahead of the Aug. 1, 2007 catastrophe.
Sorel also said the agency hopes to hire eight extra inspectors to place particular emphasis on bridges that lack redundant support features. But he said salary limitations could make it hard to reach the personnel goal.
Rep. Melissa Hortman talked of changing a law that says state employee salaries can’t be higher than the governor’s.
“It may be that the marketplace says an engineer is a more valuable asset than a governor,” said Hortman, a Democrat.
The transportation department has also streamlined its inspection procedures for reviewing reports and ordering fixes, Sorel said.