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Minneapolis Bridge Work Raises Costs, Rancor

In Minnesota, the governor and state lawmakers are arguing over the best way to pay for replacing the I-35W bridge that collapsed in August. Cost estimates for cleanup and reconstruction have skyrocketed from $250 million to nearly $400 million.

The plan is to have the bridge finished by the end of next year — just 14 months from now. But so far, the federal government has only delivered a portion of the money it promised to provide for the project.

If the Republican governor and the Democrats who control the legislature can't authorize using state money to pay for the bridge, many of Minnesota's other road projects will be delayed.

Until federal money for reconstruction becomes available, the governor and state lawmakers have to figure out a way to pay for the bridge. But the state's transportation budget doesn't have enough money to float itself a loan.

Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau is asking a special panel of senior state lawmakers to authorize state money for the bridge. Without it, Molnau says they will have to delay other state transportation projects.

"This was a dollar amount that was not in my budget obviously and not in MNDOT's budget, and it's going to be paid out in a very compressed time frame in 12 to 14 months," Molnau said.

The request doesn't sit well with state lawmakers who worry that needed road projects in their districts could be pushed back. House Speaker Margaret Kelliher, a Democrat, doesn't like that a select panel of lawmakers is being asked to authorize the funding. She wants the governor to call a special session to deal with the bridge collapse and other transportation funding issues.

"When you're in a crisis situation, people should come together and actually have a legislative session devoted to this issue and devoted to the long term transportation needs of the state," Kelliher said. "This crisis is not going to go away for MNDOT, even if this authority were granted."

The debate over transportation funding has been a thorny issue in Minnesota for several years. But it has intensified in the weeks after the bridge collapse.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has vetoed two bills that include a gas tax increase in the past three years, said after the bridge collapse that he would support a gas tax increase. But a deal is still elusive.

In the meantime, the governor and lawmakers continue to haggle over the best way to pay for a bridge that seems to get more expensive each week that goes by.

Tom Scheck reports from Minnesota Public Radio.

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