Thursday, August 03, 2017

Bridges in the news

This week we remembered the day, 10 years back, when the 35W bridge collapsed. This feature was in operation at the time and here is what I said about it then:
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.

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 new bridge replaces the ancient Stillwater lift bridge, which dated to 1931. The new bridge is impressive:

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.


R.A. Crankbait said...

Stillwater is such a beautiful town, and the bridge was a part of the charm, but we drove through there last Saturday to take a last trip over the bridge (that wasn't the point of the trip, but we took the opportunity when we realized it). Downtown Stillwater on a sunny summer Saturday looks like the State Fair, plus cars. It was stressful to creep through there as a driver. I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to go there and to see how things have changed.

R.A. Crankbait said...

I blogged about the 35W bridge collapse as well; it had the possibility of affecting people in my family (and my future family), plus a friend of mine was a MNDOT bridge inspector who's crew was on the bridge at the time. It was also quite a shock for my office, located less than a mile from the bridge in downtown Minneapolis (you could see what was left of the bridge from the upper floors of one of the buildings on our campus). I was on the crisis communications team, going through "if/then" scenarios while we waited to find out if we had lost anyone. It was maddening to wait for reports to come in from managers and trying to determine who was out of the city on business.

The whole scenario, in fact, was very much like what happened on 9/11, and knowing so little while needing to know so much.Fortunately we had no one killed or injured. The collapse was an impetus, however, to implementing an automated crisis communication system that has since gone through a couple of enhancements. We can now ping all of our employees and get a response in minutes. As I wrote at the time, though:

"As the day went on it seemed more and more likely that we hadn’t lost anyone from our Division or from the Minneapolis campus, which in fact turned out to be the case. Remarkably, we had been unaffected. That is not to say that we were untouched."

Mr. D said...

We haven’t been to Stillwater in probably 7-8 years for precisely the reason you’ve described, Crankbait. It’s just too much. Lately we’ve been getting our quaint fix elsewhere. Maybe now we can go back….

That is not to say that we were untouched.


Bike Bubba said...

Even apart from whether, or to what degree, the new bridge overcomes the roadblock that Stillwater was, you've still got the approach. I don't get how it changes the overall dynamics of traffic flow in the area.

Lots of cool and quaint throughout the state, though, but I still like Stillwater.