"We know that the bridge was inspected in 2005 and 2006 by state inspectors, and while there was some stress and surface concerns noted, they didn't identify a need for the bridge to be replaced," said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Last year's engineering report identified 52 areas of the bridge where a fracture would be considered very alarming, including some hard to inspect areas. The recommendation was that steel plates be added to critical areas.
But state officials wanted other options -- and chose the closer inspections of the 52 sections of the bridge. They defended that choice today.
"In the bridge we just had collapse, my daughter drives that bridge twice a day. if you really believe that any of us would compromise the safety of the motoring public you're in the wrong place, because we would not," said Carol Molnau, Commissioner of Transportation.
More than 73,000 bridges were rated as "structurally deficient" in 2006, while an additional 80,000 were considered "functionally obsolete," according to federal transportation statistics.
The status does not mean a bridge is unsafe to use, Peters said at a news conference in Minneapolis Thursday. Peters also said that the federal government would immediately offer $5 million to the recovery effort and would supplant those funds as necessary.
Dan Dorgan, the director of bridges for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, laid out some of the structure's history that had earned the bridge its "structurally deficient" status. He cited reports over the last 20 years that had found bearing and corrosion problems and fatigue cracks that were repaired in the early 1990s. Despite the federal designation, which a federal highway transportation official described as "programmatic," the bridge was still deemed fit for travel, Dorgan said.
According to the National Bridge Inventory on the Department of Transportation's Web site, the deck of the bridge was in fair condition, the superstructure was satisfactory and the bridge rating indicated it met currently acceptable standards. Pawlenty said Wednesday night that the bridge, built in 1967, was not expected to be replaced until 2020.
Although officials could not offer a cause of the collapse, Department of Homeland Security officials quickly ruled out any apparent terrorism. There was a construction crew on the bridge doing a resurfacing job that pared traffic from eight lanes to four, but it's not clear if the work had anything to do with the collapse. The $9 million project was a combination of $6.5 million in surface repair work and $2.5 million in related bridge work, including construction on the bridge joints.
Pawlenty announced Thursday afternoon that the state would conduct its own investigation into the collapse, concurrent with the federal probe, that would also look at all bridges throughout the state.
"A bridge in America shouldn't just fall down," Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said at the news conference. She added that the collapse is a reminder that the nation's infrastructure needs to become a funding priority.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Minnesota bridge tragedy is a wake-up call on America's deteriorating infrastructure. "Since 9/11, we have taken our eye off the ball," said Reid, suggesting that infrastructure spending has taken a back seat to spending on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.