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The remains of the I-35 bridge in the Mississippi River, with the downtown Minneapolis skyline in the background

More than a month after the collapse, clean-up continues on the remains of the I-35W bridge in the Mississippi River.

In the wake of the bridge collapse

By Rick Moore

From M, fall 2007

A month after the August 1 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, the images linger of twisted steel beams, slanted spans of freeway, and cars standing askew at both ends of the remains. There are also the sobering statistics: 13 people dead, dozens injured, and countless lives affected by the trauma. Given the bridge's location--literally a block away from the western edge of the Twin Cities campus--and its function as a major artery for commuters, the collapse hits even closer to home at the University of Minnesota. Thousands of students, faculty, and staff used the span each day to get to campus from points all around the greater metro area. As you travel toward campus now via University Avenue and look to the south as you cross the freeway, there is a stark reminder of the tragedy: the road rises... and then simply disappears. Gone, too, is another piece of our collective sense of security. As University President Bob Bruininks told the Minnesota Daily, "... You didn't travel across that stretch of highway and ask yourself, 'What are the odds of getting to the other side?'... You assume you could die in a plane crash or on a highway, but you don't assume that the basic structure holding you up when you travel is going to fail. There's something unbelievably unsettling to that. It makes everything else around you seem so much more unpredictable." Looking toward the future, there is a strong sense of hope. Although it seems hard to believe, Minnesota leaders hope to have a new bridge in place by the end of 2008. Just as a number of students, faculty, and staff rushed to the scene at the time of the collapse--helping rescue the injured, doing basic triage, and ferrying victims to ambulances--so, too, will the University of Minnesota be helping the community understand the catastrophe and its implications for the future. U researchers have applied for grants to examine possible causes for the bridge's collapse and to study how travelers choose to commute in its aftermath. And this fall the Urban Studies Program is offering a special course, "The River, the Bridge, the Community: Beyond the Headlines of the I-35W Bridge Collapse," taught by Pat Nunnally, coordinator of the U's River Life Program. The class, which will include a series of lectures by University and off-campus experts, will consider how our transportation system and the Mississippi River ecosystem will be shaped by decisions made in the next year.


For stories about the involvement of University students, staff, and faculty in bridge-related rescue efforts and information on how to navigate around campus, visit Bridge stories.