Five years later …

I-35W bridge on the day of its collapse: August 1, 2007.

Wednesday’s evening rush hour marks the five year anniversary of the sudden collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in which 13 people were killed and 145 injured.

New I-35W bridge

I had the chance to drive over the new I-35W bridge a few weeks ago.  Built in 339 days, the new bridge has 10 lanes and shoulders; the old bridge had 8 lanes and no shoulders. The new bridge has 323 smartbridge sensors that measure how it handles traffic, and embedded de-icing technology – great for Minnesota winters.  This was only the second time I chose to drive over that bridge since the collapse even though the new bridge is purposefully low-key and undramatic. It is still a location of tragedy.

Art installation to commemorate bridge collapse

The TV news is full of stories of recovery – emotional and physical – from people who were on the bridge in 2007.  Historians saved artifacts from the collapse – but say that people are not yet ready for a museum exhibit about the event. St. Paul poet Todd Boss collaborated with European visual artist Maja Spasova to create a public art installation of 35 life rings anchored between the Stone Arch Bridge and the new I-35W bridge – and series of poems.

Bridge safety nationwide

A recent article in the Minneapolis StarTribune reports that, in spite of tremendous national press coverage, neither the federal government nor most state governments made any significant increase in infrastructure funding:

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, more than 26 percent, or one in four, of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or “functionally obsolete,” a separate designation that often means a span was not designed for modern traffic conditions.

The National Transportation Safety Board noted a number of reasons for the collapse of the bridge. Some were specific to the day – heavy equipment and materials for repairs that were underway.  Others focused on inadequate methods for assessing the strength of the bridge – including the exclusion of the component that actually failed, the gusset plates, from regular inspections. The original design was determined to be inadequate, and the problems were not caught in the Federal and State reviews of the design.

Minnesota was one of the few states that did take action. We increased our gas tax, inspected all the bridges, and have been in the midst of bridge repairs around the state for the last five years – the High Bridge in Duluth is undergoing major repairs right now. Even so, we are only halfway to the goal of fixing our deficient bridge problem by 2018. We’re on schedule – but the 11 years projected to fix the backlog is an indication of just how far behind we have been.

On this anniversary of the I-35W Bridge collapse perhaps we can become more willing to pay taxes to rebuild the crumbling bridges and inadequate roads – an investment in our own future.

About Sister Edith

Benedictine sister of St. Scholastica Monastery, Duluth, Minnesota
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