The new bridge will open in a matter of weeks!
by Charlie Leck
It was at 6:04 in the early evening, one year ago today, that the bridge came down. I was working in the kitchen and went out to the livingroom and turned on CNN at about 6:10 in order to catch up on the day's news. I returned to my work in the kitchen. The TV is completely across the livingroom and our kitchen is an entirely separated and self-contained area. I was tending to something over the stove and I could only hear murmurings about a tragedy and that, somewhere, a major interstate highway bridge had collapsed. Then I heard mention of the Mississippi River and my mind ran over the possibilities. Interstate-55 in St. Louis? Perhaps I-80 in Davenport, Iowa? Or, nearby, I-74 in Bettendorf? Then I heard a talking head say it was I-35 and that severely narrowed the possibilities.
Where all does I-35 cross the Mississippi? I found myself realizing that I-35 went straight south from Minneapolis, all the way to Texas. The Mississippi actually moves Southeast. I dropped my stirring spoon and hustled out to the livingroom. I-35 crosses the Mississippi in only one spot – downtown Minneapolis. Cameras were arriving on the scene and I was watching, in horror, as the rescue squads began arriving at the river.
My first thought was that hundreds would die. It was the evening rush hour. I had come home from St. Paul before the start of the day's rush, to avoid sitting in traffic. I passed within a few hundred yards of that bridge. I knew it intimately. I knew how bad the traffic would have been at 6 o'clock.
The story hung over my town and our state for weeks. We kept thinking that there was going to be hell to pay. Government was supposed to watch over us – to do things for us that we couldn't do for ourselves – and making sure our bridges, roads and transportation systems were safe is one of those things. Who screwed up?
Miraculously, only 13 people lost their lives. Many more were injured. As today's local paper points out, hundreds were left with searing mental scars with which they would live for the rest of their lives.
Among all the incredible parts of this story is the fact that in just a few weeks a new and spectacular bridge will open as a replacement for the old one.
Has it already been a year since one of the lockmasters on the river, a few hundred yards from the bridge, heard all the strange sounds and looked over to see the bridge in free-fall? Can they really put up a new bridge in so short a time? Oh, the wonders that man can perform?
There will be memorial services around the city today. At 6 o'clock, after a moment of silence, church bells will begin to toll all over the state. Minnesotans will pay respects to the memories of other Minnesotans they didn't even know, but emotionally bleed for nonetheless.
See a good interactive report on the incident and on the construction of the new bridge at http://www.startribune.com/bridge
There is a remarkable photographic portrait of the collapse at: