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Minnesota DOT Press Conference; Bridge Collapse Update

Aired August 4, 2007 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Want to take you straight to Minneapolis, Minnesota for an update from the Department of Transportation on this week's bridge collapse.
BOB MCFARLIN, MINNESOTA DEPT. OF TRANSPORTATION: Those bridges that are being inspected are in St. Cloud over the Mississippi River, Highway 23, Highway 123 in Sandstone over the Kettle River, Highway 234 -- is it, Connie? 243 excuse me Isowla (ph) over the St. Croix River. Those inspections began yesterday as we reported to you, they are going along well. We do not have written reports on those inspections yet, but our verbal reports on those three bridges are that they are functioning as designed and there are no significant issues.

As I reported yesterday, we have added a fourth -- we added a fourth bridge to that inventory. That was a bridge in Sock Rapids (ph) which is a city bridge, the inspection of that bridge began today. We are adding a fifth bridge to this list, this is -- because it is on the federal list as ordered by Secretary Peters, and this is the Highway 61 Bridge over the Gooseberry River up on the North Shore, and that bridge will be inspected beginning tomorrow. Now that is a fairly new bridge, so we would not expect any difficulties with that bridge. But it is on the federal list.

Secondly, I want to let you know we are continuing to assist the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County in their ongoing recovery efforts at the site. Part of that assistance we have begun discussions with the city and the county and NTSB and others at the site about the eventual removal of debris and identifying potential contractors. When I have more information on that contract and that activity, it will be reported here in one of these briefings.

Like to let you know that the company Parsons Bickerhauf has been selected as Min D.O.T.s consultant in the effort to review Min D.O.T.'s bridge inspection practices as ordered by the governor. And Parson Brickerhauf will also be assisting us as we go forward with the expedited bridge inspection effort that the governor has also asked for.

Parsons will be the lead in that effort, the lead consultant in that effort for us. The scope of work is still being defined and Parsons Bickerhauf may bring on subcontractors to help with that work.

Also today, Min D.O.T. will be issuing what's called a Request for Qualifications to the contracting industry across the United States. This is the first step in inviting contracting companies and consultant companies to take a look at the effort to rebuild the 35w Bridge. We will be -- the contract for that bridge will be a design- build contract, what's known as an A-Plus-B Contract. That will be spelled out in that request for qualifications. We will be seeking responses to that request for qualifications midweek next week, so it is a very expedited process. As soon as that notice goes out it will be on Min D.O.T's Website so we are beginning the process of identifying contractors and pursuing the reconstruction of the 35w Bridge.

Wiss Janney if you recall is our consulting firm working at the site in cooperation with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Investigation as to the causes of the collapse of the bridge. That work is continuing and Wiss Janney is on site.

Also we are awaiting final action by Congress. The update we have on Congressional action for emergency funding for the expenses related to this crisis. We are waiting for house -- the House of Representatives to take action on the Senate bill that was passed last night, and we believe that when the House takes that action to pass the Senate bill that bill will go on to President Bush for his signature as a $250 million authorization for expenditures that will be passed by Congress and later in September or October, Congress then will have to appropriate that money for this project. It is a two-step project in the federal process.

Now I want to spend some time with you today to talk about Minn D.O.T.s Website and the information and the reconfiguration of that Website and the information that's now on that Website related to this incident and is Kevin (ph) here to -- we have established -- rather than just putting the material that you and others have been asking for on just the front page, we have established a 35w page. It has a tremendous amount of information and a number of the reports about inspections and consulting that consultants look at this bridge that you have been requesting and I'm going to have Kevin now run you through that Website and one thing we're going to be using with the media and public and public official interest in so many of these reports, we will be using this Website and this link to post all of these different inspection reports, data, links to federal data that you have been requesting through this Website. So this is going to be the principle conduit for information that you've been asking for. I'll let Kevin go through that a little bit, and then we'll take questions.

KEVIN: If you take a look at our Website -- w This is what our main page looks like. Right now we've got a little bit of redundancy based on what's going on. We've got traffic routes, all of that. We also are putting updates on daily basis on what occurs at these media availabilities. If you slide down to the bottom of the page, you'll find a link to additional information. That opens up to another page that just has more detail on what we had in the front -- or on the front. The detour routes, details on what's going on. Then if you slide down towards the bottom, there has been a lot of requests for reports and other detailed information like that.

You'll find that underneath "background information." We've got a FAQ sheet on the bridge, with a little background. Questions about the design can be answered there and so on. All of the reports, the fracture critical and non-critical bridge, and the inspection schedules, just about everything that you could want. And if somebody calls and asks us for something else, as soon as we put it out we -- yeah. So there's just about everything that you could want on this bridge I think at this point. If we ask you --

WHITEFIELD: You've been listening to officials at the Minnesota Department of Transportation during this press conference out of Minneapolis talking about a few things, among them a fifth bridge now has been identified in Minnesota that will require some sort of thorough inspection, as well as you heard the assistant to the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation invite contractors around the country to begin considering designs on redesigning and rebuilding the 35w bridge which collapsed Wednesday night during the height of rush hour there in Minneapolis.

The death toll right now still at five people and it is believed some 70 people were injured during that catastrophe. We'll have more information as it merits, particularly in the 4:00 Eastern hour. We'll have another update for you at the bottom of the hour. Now time for CNN's "Special Investigations Unit: No Survivors, why TWA 800 Could Happen Again." Already in progress.