Source AP ©

Bush administration: Structural deficiencies found at Minneapolis bridge 2 years ago

Structural deficiencies were found two years ago in the highway bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis and the state was responsible for fixing them, President George W. Bush's administration said.

Congress began working on a $250 million (EUR 183 million) worth of federal aid and Bush made plans to visit the site Saturday.

Click here to see photos of Minneapolis bridge collapse

"We in the federal government must respond, and respond robustly, to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity - that bridge - gets rebuilt as quickly as possible," Bush said after a Cabinet meeting.

Still stung by criticism of the government's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans, Bush talked with state and local officials in Minnesota. The administration also sent officials to the scene.

An inspection two years ago found structural deficiencies in the 40-year-old highway bridge that buckled during evening rush hour Wednesday, the White House said.

The Interstate 35W span rated 50 on a scale of 100 for structural stability and was classified as "structurally deficient." That means there were features that needed to be repaired or replaced.

"It doesn't mean that the bridge is unsafe," Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told The Associated Press after touring the site. "It could carry a rating of 50 for a number of years without getting substantially worse."

According to the Federal Highway Administration, 75,422 of the approximately 600,000 bridges nationwide in 2006 carried a "structurally deficient" classification.

Peters said the bridge, which spans the Mississippi River in a city that will host next year's Republican National Convention, had been on a schedule for inspection every two years. She said she did not know what specific problems were uncovered during the last inspection.

Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, said that while the inspection did not indicate the bridge was at risk of failing, "if an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions."

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved legislation that would direct $250 million (EUR 183 million) to Minnesota to help it replace the bridge. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said it was too soon to approve emergency money for a new bridge because it is unclear how much would be needed.

Congress was scheduled to depart Friday for a monthlong summer break.

Peters announced a $5 million (EUR 3.66 million) grant to help pay for rerouting traffic, clearing debris and repairs, and said the government quickly would consider requests for more money.

Bush telephoned Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak to offer his support and acknowledge the economic cost of losing a main transportation artery.

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