Trouble over bridged waters

August 02, 2007 by barbara

barbara writes

Last night, by the time I stopped reading and watching about the horrifying bridge collapse in Minneapolis, rescue efforts had been suspended for the night. Too dark. Current too swift. Too much debris. Too dangerous. Eventually I slept while others tended to the injured and tried to figure out what comes next.

Statistics as of early this morning: Four confirmed deaths. Nearly 70 injured, some of them critically. Damaged internal organs. Head wounds. Concussions. There are bodies in vehicles that couldn’t be reached before darkness fell last night. The vehicles are submerged in the Mississippi River. Others may have been crushed under the weight of the bridge itself. It is no longer a rescue operation. There is no hope for those who have not yet been reached. More.

Early guessing by experts is that the bridge collapse was almost certainly a structural failure as opposed to a terrorist act. It was a very long span with no supports in the river. A train was passing under the bridge when it collapsed. The passing of the train, combined with heavy traffic and construction crews working on the bridge deck (two of the six lanes were closed for minor maintenance repairs), may have generated sufficient vibration and a change in harmonics to cause the failure. Or not. Time will tell.

A short while ago, I believe I heard that the train was carrying Polystyrene D. There are no immediate concerns about its toxicity, but they’re keeping an eye on that, along with everything else.

The river is filled with debris. Bridges downstream are at some risk. And so, like so many things, the impact extends far beyond the immediate scene of the tragedy.

The Twin Cities has an abundance of bridges since we have so many major roadways across the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers, for starters. We have known for a long time that our bridges and highways are not adequate to meet needs.

Interstate 35 is one of two major roadways that passes north/south through the Twin Cities. I remember when it was built. And I remember learning early on the day it opened that I-35 was essentially obsolete. It carried more traffic on Day One than it was designed to carry years down the road.

Our bridges and highways are aging and they need significant maintenance. Our legislature has pressed for some time to pass legislation to adequately fund transportation needs. The governor (Tim Pawlenty) has steadfastly vetoed every bill that crossed his desk. Draw your own conclusions and remember his name.

It’s a very sad day in our town.

UPDATE: In a piece of tragically prescient writing, Charlie Quimby at Across the Great Divide wrote last month about the sorry state of bridges and highways in Minnesota.

Posted in


Anonymous (not verified) | August 2, 2007 - 8:34am



barbara aka babs (not verified) | August 2, 2007 - 9:21am

I've been thinking about Tim Pawlenty this morning. A lot. He and Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak will be doing a press conference shortly that will also include Amy Klobuchar and Norm. I suppose it's not reasonable to place the full burden of the deplorable state of Minnesota highways and bridges (and by extension, the bridge collapse) on Pawlenty. Susan reminded me that this particular bridge (an interstate bridge) falls under federal jurisdiction. But it is fair to say Pawlenty is a major roadblock, so to speak, in providing essential transportation funding, and if he is not complicit in this one, he will be in another.


barbara | August 2, 2007 - 10:12am

This from AP:

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Interstate 35W span rated 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability.

"This doesn't mean there was a risk of failure, but if an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions," he said. The bridge was 40 years old.

First lady Laura Bush will visit Minneapolis on Friday to console victims of the collapse, which killed at least four people and sent dozens of cars plummeting into the Mississippi River on Wednesday.

Well. To the extent one can rely on Tony Snow for reliable information, we return to the responsibility of the state of MN to address the bridge's deficiencies. Back to Pawlenty's court. I have no idea what 50 out of 120 represents.

I am comforted beyond measure already to know that Laura Bush will be here tomorrow to provide balm to the suffering.


Anonymous (not verified) | August 2, 2007 - 2:07pm

Where is Carol Molnau? Has anyone seen or heard from her? She is the head of transportation and should bear some responsibility. She, and the guy who vetoed the transportation bill and a gas tax increase, twice. Tim Pawlenty. No terrorists needed.


susan | August 2, 2007 - 2:54pm

Good question. Tim's out there looking like a stick figure and I detect less assured smarminess than usual. Surely he knows that he's been short-changing the other 451 "functionally obsolete" bridges in MN, even as he pawns off being directly responsible for this one. And Carol's totally missing in action.

Jim Klobuchar -- yes, father of Senator Amy, for those of you outside MN -- has written a good piece on the collapse, as has Conrad deFiebre, a fellow at Minnesota 2020.
And friend Eric Utne sent me this, from his friend Jan Stenslund, about the repair work on the bridge: "Regarding the project, it never looked wrong, but it never looked right either--the work they were doing on the bridge, jack-hammering huge chunks of the bridge away at the joints--and not pouring the new concrete in right away. The people who count as decision-makers, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and so on keep saying that there was no structural work being done--which is just a sad re-direction of the truth. There was no work being done on the steel truss under the bridge, but the structure, slung over the truss, was being gouged and chewed and spit back into. A friend of mine is a driver for Metro-Mobility and had just run a MinnDOT (Minnesota Dept. of Transportation) engineer out to the bridge the day before, and the guy was clearly concerned. He mentioned that what they were doing was a "stop gap" repair, but that the whole thing absolutely needed to be reworked in TWO not TWENTY years. And there you have the flavor of the reality that is not being talked about as the ones who wear the aprons of responsibility sweat, yet pretend. Mayor Ryback is the only one who really seems to wear the event in a deeply human, intelligent, cogent way."

Thanks Eric. Thanks everyone.


Anonymous (not verified) | August 2, 2007 - 8:40pm

The old "friend of a friend' story with the un-named engineer gig to boot.

Does anyone know which states have the most bridges with the highest percentage of potential problems?


attilla (not verified) | August 2, 2007 - 8:51pm

Molnau is in China apparently. Look for her to be thrown under the bus on her return as a sacrificial lamb for the smirker.


barbara | August 2, 2007 - 10:17pm

I did some poking around and here's what I found -- mostly via a story via ABC News today.

26.2% of U.S. bridges are in need of repair or fail to meet highest safety standards.

13% of U.S. bridges have been cited as "structurally deficient," which was the tag on the Minneapolis bridge.

Minnesota bridges are among the nation's safest, with "only" 12.2% structurally deficient (SD -- my abbreviation) or functionally obsolete (FO), lagging only behind Arizona and Nevada.

Ironically, D.C. has the least safe bridges. 63% of them are SD or FO.

Rhode Island ranks last among states with 55% of its bridges SD or FO.

U.S. Department of Transportation has not weighed in on how many bridges are closed right now for safety reasons.

The feds expect states to inspect bridges at least every other year.


Anonymous (not verified) | August 3, 2007 - 6:23am

and Massachusetts, and Vermont, Rhode Island. Connecticut.

DC. Hmmmm

Texas, one of the safest. Hmmmmm (and the most bridges)

Maybe we should not play politics here ya think?


susan | August 3, 2007 - 8:38am

Who's playing anything? Like it or not, politics is the process we use (currently abuse) to select those who will govern for the greater good. Unless you really don't believe in any form of government, elected or otherwise, you are stuck with politics. So it's not "playing" it's the most important thing we do for ourselves, our kids and the planet.
I realize when it looks bad for the no-tax Bushco/Pawlenty crowd, people like good old anonymous want us to rise above the fray, and not "play politics." When it's Bill Clinton and a blow job -- or any other Clinton or Democrat -- it's fair game. Just like the big blubbering Republican Senators who, once they lost control of the committtees, suddenly were all about civility and bi-partisanship, having run roughshod over both for the previous six years.
So basically, go bark up another tree. It's no news to anyone that our infrastructure is in disrepair. Most of us wouldn't get on an airplane if we knew it was flunking its saftey ratings.
Most of the people who could afford to pay a small tax increase (full disclosure, I'm one of them) choose big pricey cars, often saying it's for the sake of safety. (I'm not one of them.) They choose pricey private schools, often saying their kids were bored -- or unsafe -- in the public schools. They live in pricey suburban homes with elaborate security systems, because, they say, it's safer. They pay for top o' the line food, fresh and organic, to avoid toxic chemicals and because it's healthier. They go to Abbot Hospital not Hennepin County Medical, because it's -- where our class goes, and whether or not you'll get better care, you'll feel like you are.
But when it comes to better government they suddenly balk. They talk about belt-tightening and doing more with less. Because until a bridge that we all drive on collapses, the problems of the poor and everyone else's kids, aren't a concern. Some of us don't want to live that way.

So call it playing politics, anon, but I say that the no-tax special interest groups that have held sway over most of our elected officials -- 99% of them Reagan/Bush anti-government Republicans -- for too long, have driven this country to the brink of disaster. As for Governor Twinky of Minnesota, his once bright future, already clouded by hooking his star to the McCain wagon, has dimmed. We knew he was plunging our state into mediocrity, we just didn't know he was plunging us into the river as well.


Anonymous (not verified) | August 3, 2007 - 10:20am

Blow job and bridges-nice analogy.

And the best food is certainly not organic-trust me.


susan | August 3, 2007 - 11:24am

Blow jobs and blowing the job in Iraq, and everywhere else -- a better analogy. Impeachment for one, but not the other.

And you've revealed a clue to your identity by showing you know nothing of good food.


Anonymous (not verified) | August 4, 2007 - 11:38am

Thats right-I am a chef.


susan | August 4, 2007 - 1:23pm

Ah, but of course. And I'm a nun.


Anonymous (not verified) | August 8, 2007 - 8:41am

I'm just catching up w/Daily Kos on this subject. One of my favorite comments is this: Every time a photo of the collapsed bridge is shown, it should be accompanied by the caption, "Your tax cuts at work".


Anonymous (not verified) | August 9, 2007 - 8:42pm

I'm hearing that MNDot employees are not allowed to talk to ANYONE, and also that there are tours of the site offered to special folks.


barbara | August 9, 2007 - 10:06pm

Special folks. Funny. Kind of. My brother, an adult with mental retardation, just got an up-close look at the bridge site earlier today. He called to tell me about it. He was almost breathless as he tried to describe what he'd seen. All those cars. The bridge. In the water. And dead people. And, and, and, and . . . . . Okay. It wasn't a tour. But he is special. *g*

And YES to, "Your tax cuts at work"!!!