Are Our Bridges Any Safer?

County officials examined five steel deck-truss bridges -- the collapsed I-35W bridge's design -- in the last year. One is due for replacement and three will be rehabilitated, including one bridge that will receive fiber-optic and strain gauges that measure the bending and stretching of critical parts of the structure.

"We have a lot of old bridges that we have -- and we have to keep an eye on them," said Joe Hrabik, the deputy director of the county's public works division.

"The Minneapolis collapse was a wake-up call, and we have to make sure that we expand our resources to keep bridges operational," he added.

Federal officials insist that significant steps have been taken to improve the inspection and repair of the nation's bridges.

After the I-35W collapse last August, the Federal Highway Administration demanded that states inspect all 497 deck truss bridges in the country. The states all responded, and of the three bridges that needed some repair work, "whatever was needed to be done was done," says Nancy Singer, a spokeswoman for the Federal Highway Administration.

Engineers say that a bridge collapse remains a rare event.

"Every 30 or 40 years, these types of catastrophic collapses take place," said Henry Petroski, a professor of civil engineering at Duke University.

"Another collapse is unlikely in the near future due to all this renewed attention on their condition and safety," he said. "But there is always a danger of complacency, the more time that passes since Minneapolis."

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