The images, now ubiquitous, are horrifying. The twisted green metal superstructure, tangled and jutting out at bizarre angles, providing a reminder of the incredible force unleashed. The slab of concrete blocks the river flow, with equally large slabs jutting out from the shoreline below, pointing toward the hazy, August sky. The cars, buses and trucks are scattered throughout the site, with unknown numbers of late model vehicles submerged under tons of steel and concrete.
It’s a horrifying thing, the collapse of a major bridge. The rumble of death will reverberate here for a long time. This is the stuff of disaster movies, a Jerry Bruckheimer image writ large and real. We’ll live with the consequences of August 1, 2007 for many years.
We are 10 years on and for most of us, the consequences faded a long time ago. A new bridge came on line in little more than a year. I cross it every day. Each crossing is utterly uneventful. It's a much better bridge, too, with five lanes in each direction; the traffic often bottlenecks on either side of the bridge, but it flows smoothly across the span.
The fear we had then was real:
We were far away from the event as it happened, fetching the weekly groceries. We had no idea what had happened and had turned on WCCO radio, more because we noted a line of storms on the western horizon and were looking for a weather update. As we drove home from the store on 35W, about 10 miles north of the site, it became clear that something horrific had happened. The answering machine was already filling with concerned calls from my relatives in Wisconsin. I have crossed the 35W bridge thousands of times in the 15 years I’ve lived in Minnesota and my relatives knew that. It is quite possible that when the list of victims becomes known, I will know someone who was on that bridge at the fateful moment; many of my friends and neighbors use this bridge each day. I hope not, but all of us who live and work in the northern suburbs must prepare for the possibility. All the victims, whether we know them or not, will need our prayers and support.As it turned out, no one I knew personally was on the bridge at the time, although I've since met people who were. In the end, 13 people died and many other suffered life-altering injuries, but as a community we absorbed the blow surprisingly well. The prayers and support did come through and while the pain is still real, this community responded well. Ten years on, I'm not certainly we would do as well.
Meanwhile, about 25 miles to the east, another bridge opened yesterday:
Hundreds of cars lined up on Minnesota 36 in Oak Park Heights on Wednesday night to cross the new St. Croix River bridge.The new bridge replaces the ancient Stillwater lift bridge, which dated to 1931. The new bridge is impressive:
But the honor of being the first to cross appeared to go to Phil and Terry Crampton of Lake Elmo, who pulled up on the highway shoulder about 7:30 p.m on their Honda Gold Wing motorcycle.
“We’ve been circling around for a while,” Phil Crampton said. “We went down to Bayport and had dinner. We’re trying to time it just right.”
They faced stiff competition from a sporty blue Mini Cooper, driven by Mike Burton of Stillwater. Burton joked that he and his wife, Lynn, were going to get the first speeding ticket on the new bridge.
“We’re excited about it,” Lynn Burton said. “We live right in downtown, so it will be nice to get the traffic out of there.”
Minnesota Department of Transportation workers removed the barricade blocking entrance to the new bridge at exactly 8 p.m. Within seconds, the long line of cars began to cross the river into Wisconsin with horns honking and cellphone videos rolling.
The changes we'll see in the area are going to be fascinating to observe. I may take a drive over it this weekend, as I have business in Wisconsin.