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Nightmare scenario on NAFTA superhighway

President Bush examines collapsed Minneapolis freeway bridge (Courtesy St. Paul Pioneer Press)

As details of the Minnesota bridge collapse become clearer, the role of international freight carried by NAFTA Superhighway trucks on I-35 remains an important backdrop of the human tragedy and the traffic nightmare the city is just now beginning to appreciate.

U.S. Navy divers have come to the scene to assist in efforts to find the eight people who remain missing since the bridge collapsed last Wednesday.

As Minneapolis and St. Paul struggle to re-route traffic, passenger and truck traffic along I-35 will be seriously disrupted, with increased congestion and costly travel delays until at least the end of next year, at the earliest.

According to a document titled “Bridge Facts” posted on the Minnesota Department of Transportation, or MNDOT, website, the bridge on I-35W carried 140,000 vehicles daily, including 4,760 commercial vehicles.

John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, told WND he estimates the number of trucks crossing the bridge prior to its collapse was more like 5,700.

By comparison, truck traffic at Laredo, Texas – the busiest crossing point for trucks headed north into the U.S. – was approximately 3,994 per day, according to figures in January.

The Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA, characterizes Laredo as “the most important truck crossing on the United States/Mexican border.”

WND previously reported MNDOT was warned that the volume of NAFTA trucks threatened the bridge.

The MNDOT document “Bridge Facts” points out Minneapolis span, despite the deficiencies noted in years of official reports, was not under any truck restrictions. At the time of collapse, it was considered safe, even for overweight truck loads of up to 136,000 pounds.

Re-routing traffic around the collapsed bridge has resulted in a congestion nightmare for Minneapolis.

Truck traffic has been restricted on I-35E since that segment was built in the 1980s. I-35E was built only after 15 years of litigation launched by the upscale residents of the Crocus Hill section of St. Paul, who fought the highway, arguing the truck traffic would disrupt their quality of life.

I-35E passes through several of St. Paul’s more affluent communities.

The governor’s mansion at 1006 Summit Avenue in St. Paul is located in the equally upscale Summit University area to the east of I-35E as that highway crosses the loop I-694 highway to the north of St. Paul.

I-35W was designed to bring the commercial traffic through Minneapolis on the way toward I-35 South.

“We have asked the Minnesota Department of Transportation to open I-35E to truck traffic,” Hausladen told WND, “and we are confident the department will do so, provided there is no violation of laws or regulations involved.”

MNDOT has converted Highway 280 into a limited access route open to commercial trucks, simply by fixing all the route’s traffic lights on “green” for north-south passage and on “red” for east-west crossing.

Even with these adjustments, finding alternative routes for as many as 5,700 trucks a day presents a nightmare scenario to MNDOT and the traffic planners in the Minneapolis and St. Paul city governments.

“Right now our hearts go out to the people who lost their lives,” Hausladen told WND. “There are still people unaccounted for and our prayers go out to them and their families.”

Photographic evidence and the relatively few fatalities experienced in the bridge collapse are resulting in downward corrections on estimations of the number of vehicles on the bridge at the time of collapse.

Original reports claimed traffic at the time of the collapse was bumper-to-bumper, with as many as 100 to 150 vehicles on the bridge.

Photographs document that two lanes of the bridge were closed for repaving, and a more reasonable estimate of the number of vehicles on the bridge at the time of collapse may be more in the range of 50 to 60 vehicles.

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