35W bridge over Mississippi River collapses

Emergency responders rush toward a section of the collapsed 35W bridge on Aug. 1, 2007.

Photo by Linda Lincoln

Structural condition of bridge called into question

The 35W bridge that connects the east and west banks of the Mississippi River near Downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota collapsed into the river just after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1.

By the next morning, officials were reporting at least seven fatalities, as the previous night’s rescue effort resumed as a recovery effort.

Individuals seeking information about family members can call the Red Cross Family Inquiry Line at 612-871-7676. A family assistance center has been set up at the Holiday Inn Metrodome, 1500 Washington Avenue South. The information line at Hennepin County Medical Center is 612-873-3400.

Local media report that approximately 50 cars were on the bridge in stop-and-go traffic when it collapsed.

Alissa Doth, of South Minneapolis, was approaching the bridge, heading southbound in her car, as it collapsed. She stopped in the bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-35W at Southeast Fourth Street and spoke to a woman whose car was the last to make it across the bridge as it collapsed.

The woman, who was understandably shaken and did not give her name, told Doth that, while in stopped traffic, a man was jackhammering next to her car. There was a jolt on the bridge, and the construction worker leaned back and then forward, and then a second worker started sprinting off the bridge, the woman told Doth. The woman said she felt the bridge move before it collapsed.

Doth said she saw smoke coming up ahead of her as she approached the bridge.

Doth, who drives across the bridge every day to get to work, said that two lanes have been closed in each direction recently, and that workers have been jackhammering on the bridge every day during the lane closures. “Just this week, I was thinking β€˜is this safe?’” said Doth.

Construction crews from the Minnesota Department of Transportation were doing “overlay work” on the surface of the road but have told local media that no major structural work was being done. The stretch of I-35W between I-94 and Highway 36 — which includes the bridge — had been restricted to one lane for the work the night before the collapse. A similar lane restriction was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. on Aug. 1, as well.

In the hours after the tragedy, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that the bridge had been inspected in 2005 and 2006, and that no structural problems were found. In 2001, the University of Minnesota’s Civil Engineering Department conducted tests for signs of fatigue on the bridge. They did find preliminary signs of fatigue, but no cracking, on the steel truss section underneath the roadway, the New York Times reported, adding that the U report said there was no need to replace the bridge due to fatigue cracking.

A federal inspection in 2005, however, deemed the bridge “structurally deficient.”

last revised: August 15, 2007