Fa­tal bridge col­lapse still re­ver­ber­ates 10 years later

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY STEVE KARNOWSKI

MIN­NEAPO­LIS | Ten years ago Tues­day, a bridge car­ry­ing a busy stretch of free­way col­lapsed with­out warn­ing into the Mis­sis­sippi River in down­town Min­neapo­lis dur­ing the evening rush hour.

Many lead­ers saw the dis­as­ter, which killed 13 peo­ple and in­jured 145, as a wake-up call about the coun­try’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

Here’s a look at what hap­pened, what’s changed since then, and how Min­nesota is mark­ing the an­niver­sary: The col­lapse

The In­ter­state 35W bridge was one of the busiest in Min­nesota be­fore it fell Aug. 1, 2007.

First re­spon­ders scram­bled to res­cue sur­vivors from the de­bris, in­clud­ing a school bus car­ry­ing 52 stu­dents and sev­eral adults. Navy divers spent two weeks re­cov­er­ing bodies from dark wa­ters full of sharp steel. Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors stayed for months. A fast­tracked re­place­ment opened less than 14 months later.

The state and two con­trac­tors ul­ti­mately paid out more than $100 mil­lion to sur­vivors and fam­i­lies of the dead. Most used the money to cover med­i­cal bills and get on with their lives. One young sur­vivor from the bus used much of his money in 2014 to travel to Turkey and Syria to join the Is­lamic State. He’s still be­lieved to be in Syria.

The cause

While the col­lapse drew at­ten­tion to the con­di­tion of Amer­ica’s ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors said poor main­te­nance wasn’t the chief cause. They ruled it was a de­sign de­fect in the bridge, which was built in the 1960s.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board said that cru­cial gus­set plates that held the bridge’s beams to­gether were only half as thick as they should have been. A con­tribut­ing fac­tor was the nearly 300 tons of con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als stock­piled on the deck for ren­o­va­tions.

The 35W bridge had been rated “struc­turally de­fi­cient,” a term that means in need of re­pair or re­place­ment, be­fore it fell. It was also “frac­ture crit­i­cal,” which means bridges at risk of col­lapse if a sin­gle, vi­tal com­po­nent fails. While nei­ther cat­e­gory means there is an im­me­di­ate safety threat, they are red flags. What changed

The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Civil En­gi­neers says the num­ber of struc­turally de­fi­cient bridges na­tion­wide de­clined from 12 percent in 2007 to 9 percent to­day. Min­nesota im­proved from 8 percent to 6 percent, ac­cord­ing to the group’s lat­est re­port card on the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture. The fig­ures ranged from 2 percent in Ne­vada to 25 percent in Rhode Is­land. The re­port card still es­ti­mates it would take $123 bil­lion to ad­dress the na­tion’s back­log of bridge re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion needs.

The im­prove­ments hap­pened be­cause states stepped up, said Andy Her­mann, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the so­ci­ety and one of its ex­perts on bridges. He said fed­eral fund­ing has been “pretty stag­nant,” but about 20 states raised taxes to in­crease their bridge spend­ing.

Min­nesota launched a 10-year, $2.5 bil­lion im­prove­ment pro­gram in 2008 that tar­geted 172 struc­turally de­fi­cient or frac­ture-crit­i­cal bridges. About 120 of them have been re­placed or re­paired, or will be soon. Another 32 need only rou­tine main­te­nance. Most of the rest will be re­paired or re­placed by late 2018. And the state now re­quires a for­mal in­de­pen­dent peer re­view dur­ing the de­sign phase for ma­jor bridges to min­i­mize the risk of crit­i­cal er­rors.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Aug. 1 marks the 10-year an­niver­sary of the col­lapse of the In­ter­state 35W bridge along the Mis­sis­sippi River in Min­neapo­lis, which killed 13 peo­ple and in­jured 145.

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