Anniversary of the Collapse of the I 35W Bridge

Two years ago today, on a weekday afternoon during rush our, the Interstate 35W bridge, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed into the Mississippi river. Thirteen people died and about 145 people suffered injuries.

At the time this happened, Amanda, Julia and I were in the Green Kalahari in South Africa, at Augrabies Falls.

Finding out about the incident was interesting. My BFF Lynne had just heard from her husband, Chris, that "the bridge in Minnesota went down." We asked if more details could be obtained, as hearing this sort of news from that distance away probably meant a significant bridge. For those of you who don't know, I'll tell you that we have a LOT of bridges in Minnesota. Many are across the Mississippi, but we've got plenty of other rivers as well.

As we waited for word, we speculated. I suggested right away that it was the I35W bridge because it was very much under reconstruction at that time. The bridge was loaded with heavy equipment and being cut up at the same time. Amanda was incredulous because, after all, such a thing is unthinkable.

Then we got more details: "It was the bridge over the Mississippi River."

Oh, great. There are dozens of bridges over the Mississippi, several in Saint Paul and Minneapolis alone. So we asked for still more details: Which bridge? What route number?

But before the details arrived, we managed to get to a phone and called Amanda's parents, reaching her step mother first. We heard the details then, about a day and a half after it all happened.

Just yesterday, the State of Minnesota filed a law suit against the consultant who had been hired to manage inspections and planning for the bridge. There is some evidence that they dropped the ball on this, but the evidence is not perfectly clear to me. We'll see where that goes.

Here's what I wrote on my old blog after returning from South Africa, about the bridge collapse:

Finally, this: Our freaking bridge collapsed. Everyone had heard about it. For me, it was at first a vague rumor about "the Mississippi River Bridge" in "Minnesota" falling down, and it took a few days to get some actual news. Having thought about it for a couple of days before learning any details, I have to say that, acknowledging the immense tragedy for those most affected, and the hassle this is going to be given what has to happen to the roads around here, it could have been a lot worse. There can be hundreds of cars on that bridge, and the collapse could have been more "complete" (i.e., all of the sections going all the way into the river). But for now there is not much I can say. I need to learn more about it. I'll just say that Minnesota has the most irresponsible and selfish governor we've ever had in our history, and for his sake, this better have been an act of god. As an atheist, I'm confident that there will be significant political fallout. (Or will all those people praying at the disaster site serve to distract us from some important realities.)

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I imagine we'll see lots of "my story" comments, so here's mine:

I usually take the bus to/from work, passing over the Washington Ave bridge (by U of M.) That day, a friend of mine offered a ride, saying she was going to be working late, and could drive me home. So she picked me up shortly before 6:00PM.

We crossed over the 10th Ave bridge, avoiding rush-hour traffic on the adjacent 35W bridge. The 35W bridge collapsed at 6:05PM, which means we would have just turned right from 10th Ave onto University Ave. So we completely missed the event.

I didn't even know about it until 20 minutes later, when I got home and a friend at work (still at the office!) called me. Our office building looks directly over the 35W bridge, but he has an internal office (no windows). The sirens drew his attention.

The next days after the collapse, people in our office traded stories about how close they'd come to being on the bridge when it collapsed. Several people spoke of "I would have been on that bridge" but had tickets for a show downtown, or left work early, and so on.

One DBA I work with was on the on-ramp from Washington Ave, waiting to cross 35W, when traffic stopped. Another had just turned right from 13th Ave, on W River Parkway (which passes under 35W), and the bridge collapsed in front of her.

But the winner of "closest" goes to the son-in-law of one of the sysadmins I worked with. Driving over the bridge in the south-bound lane, had a Tastee truck behind him. Then suddenly the Tastee truck wasn't there anymore, suddenly vanished. He made it across, but the Tastee truck didn't.

there was a major inquiry. The reason the bridge fell is clear; The gusset plate were underspecified, too thin. I guess the idea of th current lawsuit is that ad the gusset plates been inspected directly and tested (rather than their stability and integrety inferred) the problems would have been found.

The real reason, of course, is because Tim Pawlenty screwed up. He's governor, his bridge, he's responsible, and he has not taken even a cursory level of blame for this. Damn Republicans .