Fatal bridge collapse still reverberates 10 years later
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.
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.
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.