Blog

I-35W collapse

Aug 2, 2007 • Karen

For the non-Minnesotans reading this, a bridge collapsed in Minnesota yesterday. Not just any bridge. The bridge for I-35 (major interstate that runs all the way to Texas) in the middle of Minneapolis. The whole damn thing buckled and fell in the river, carrying a school bus, 18 construction workers, and 50 cars with it. Amazingly, all the kids on the school bus and all but one of the construction workers made it; many of the commuters on the bridge were able to walk/swim away from the scene. Only four people are known dead (though there are around 20 people missing). I called my parents yesterday, and several of my home friends have been checking in on Facebook, so I think everyone I know is okay.

No one knows why the thing collapsed yet. It wasn't terrorism, and no boats or anything crashed into the bridge. (The bridge failure was so complete because there weren't any supports mid-river to impair water travel. Of course this also meant the design had little redundancy.) The construction crew wasn't doing anything structural to the bridge. (They were repairing the concrete; it was the steel arch that busted.) The rush-hour traffic at the time was bumper-to bumper and I'm sure the cement and construction equipment weighed quite a bit, but four out of the eight lanes were closed for the construction so it could hardly be considered a maximal load. The latest inspection said that they found evidence of wear on the steel, but since there weren't any cracks they didn't think it was a problem. I guess forty years of alternating road salt and sweltering heat were enough...but I hope that more detailed explanations are forthcoming and the inspectors are questioned.

...good that I didn't get an internship in Minneapolis this summer?

I've been largely in shock since I heard the news last night. It's been distracting me from work. Even though I didn't use that bridge all that often (more often Mendota), it still hits close to home. That's right next to the U of M and near the Metrodome. It's the central artery of the already-strained MSP highway system. I have no idea how people are going to commute now...keep in mind that the metro area has virtually nonexistent public transportation, so there's no real backup option for commuters.

They were FINALLY getting around to fixing 62/35W (a terrible, politically-motivated bottleneck that I often drive through, a few miles south of the collapse)...will that funding get diverted to rebuilding the bridge? Will there be a push to expand our light rail from a single-line tourism aid to a functional commuter system? Something must be done. The transportation infrastructure in the metro was already being pushed to the limit; we were already far behind in getting commuter public transit. Now it's an emergency.

I wonder if Pawlenty's transportation bill vetoes will come back to bite him in the butt now. Not that properly funding Minnesota transit this year would have prevented this collapse. (Obviously not.) But if we gave infrastructure the same priority now that it had in the 50s and 60s (when all the stuff that's breaking now was built) instead of appeasing the Taxpayer League and failing at satisfactorily providing a basic public good, maybe we'd be able to bounce back a little easier. From massive blackouts to exploding NY steam pipes to this... You get what you pay for.

But yeah. I don't know if I'll be able to believe it until I come home and see it myself.