Transportation Policy

Minneapolis Bridge Disaster

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Authorities lowered the death toll from an interstate bridge collapse to four Thursday, but warned the final number could change as divers comb the twisted steel and chunks of concrete that crashed into the Mississippi River.

Police Lt. Amelia Huffman said: "This morning, the medical examiner's office only has four sets of remains." Initial reports of seven people killed were based on the best estimates authorities had Wednesday night, she said.

The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of being repaired and two lanes in each direction were closed when the bridge buckled during evening rush hour Wednesday….

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the bridge was inspected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2005 and 2006 and that no immediate structural problems were noted. "There were some minor things that needed attention," he said….

Awful stuff. More here.

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  1. I drive across that span a couple times a week. Luckily I avoided it yesterday. It’s hard to imagine getting around the downtown Minneapolis area without that connection.

  2. Aside from the obvious facts – the bridge was 40 years old and it was under peak load – there is no real explanation at this point.

    Anyone who has any info beyond that may be talking to his/her lawyer instead of the media.

  3. I heard that they were doing concrete work on the bridge, and using a bunch of small dump trucks filled with quick-setting concrete to shuttle to and from the mixing rig set up off the bridge. A couple of garbage trucks full of wet concrete + rush hour = bridge collapse apparently.

  4. Remember when that fuel truck caught on fire and destroyed a freeway ramp in San Francisco? Remember how somebody started a “truther” spoof site? I wonder how long it will take for that to happen again.

  5. It is truly sad that at least 4 and perhaps as many as 24 people may have died….but does this require breathless round the clock coverage? 76 people were blown up in Iraq yesterday, probably just as many more will die today, but bad luck for them they’re foreigners and not some guys carpooling home in Minnesota? If four people were killed in a traffic accident in Minnesota instead of a collapsed bridge (with video coverage), would it even make it to the front page of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis?

  6. It was NOT under “peak load.” Traffic was down to a lane or two. That’s one reason why the casualty toll will not be as horrific as it could have been. The cause of the collapse seems to be structural, but “peak load” was not an issue (even with the dump trucks I would think).

  7. I’m surprised (and relieved) by how low the death toll has been so far. What amazed me is hearing stories like those of the children who managed to evacuate their school bus, presumably under their own power; I’d’ve thought they would have suffered injuries when they fell (or rather, when they landed). Small mercies, I guess. But from what I’ve read on other comment boards, this will completely trash the city’s traffic patterns for a long time to come. Someone compared it to Manhattan losing the George Washington Bridge.

  8. Bridges, not bombs. Damn the shrub.

  9. does this require breathless round the clock coverage? 76 people were blown up in Iraq yesterday, probably just as many more will die today, but bad luck for them they’re foreigners and not some guys carpooling home in Minnesota?

    Let me guess: in your spare time you go to funerals and shout “Why make such a fuss over one single corpse? Do you know how many people died in Iraq today?”

  10. Jennifer, I agree with your surprise. I thought there would be at least a hundred dead, especially after seeing the video. Last night was a real downer.

  11. The $14-15 billion the feds are using for the WO(s)D would come in really handy to rebuild our infrastructure. Too bad keeping people from consuming a plant is so important.

  12. A Bit of a Jerk — You really don’t understand the entire concept of “news,” do you?

  13. Let me guess: in your spare time you go to funerals and shout “Why make such a fuss over one single corpse? Do you know how many people died in Iraq today?”

    No, I don’t do that–it would be rude and insensitive to those attending.

    My point is that CNN and everyone else has reported the news, they’ve shown the dramatic footage, and now perhaps it may be time to report other news. Four people died,they reported how it happened, and now continue on with news that affects a more global audience–if some other facts about the bridge collapse come to light, go ahead and report that, but my feeling is that the news organizations are continuing to repeat themselves and focus solely on this story because it is dramatic, not becuase it has high value as a news story.

    Like I said–if four people died because someone ran a redlight, it would be page 4 of the Metro section of the Star Tribune or whatever, and it would say “Four people died today when there car was hit by another car at an intersection. The driver of the car had run a redlight and is facing charges of failing to yield, and vehicular manslaughter.” And you would never hear about it again.

    I’m being critical of the fact that news is no onger judged by its merit, but by how watchable it is on television.

  14. Like I said–if four people died because someone ran a redlight, it would be page 4 of the Metro section of the Star Tribune or whatever, and it would say “Four people died today when there car was hit by another car at an intersection. The driver of the car had run a redlight and is facing charges of failing to yield, and vehicular manslaughter.” And you would never hear about it again.

    I agree to an extent with your criticism of the sensationalism here, but four people dying in a car accident are not as newsworthy as the collapse of an Interstate crossing over America’s major river, or the serious damage that has been done to the traffic patterns of a major city. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some people in the area have to quit their jobs because the bridge collapse makes their commutes too long for the job to be worth keeping.

  15. What amazed me is hearing stories like those of the children who managed to evacuate their school bus, presumably under their own power;

    CNN had a phone interview with one of the quick thinkers who escaped from their own car, saw the bus in trouble, and helped (along with apparently many others) get all of the kids to safety, some as young as four.

    This is like when I-95 collapsed in Greenwich, CT, the difference being of course that this recent one occurred at rush hour.

  16. What I find amazing is that there are so many stories of people who experienced the fall while on the center portion of the bridge and barely got injured (aside from bumps and bruises). I heard about two teenagers whose car actually fell into the water, but who were able to swim to the portion of the bridge deck seemingly “floating” in the river and then walk their way out from there.

    As for the construction, the bridge was down to 2 lanes each way (instead of the usual 4), and traffic has tended to be lighter during the construction phase (a lot of people were already using the Highway 280 detour now being employed). Then again, there was a Twins game downtown so that might explain why there was bumper-to-bumper traffic.

  17. “I agree to an extent with your criticism of the sensationalism here, but four people dying in a car accident are not as newsworthy as the collapse of an Interstate crossing over America’s major river, or the serious damage that has been done to the traffic patterns of a major city. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some people in the area have to quit their jobs because the bridge collapse makes their commutes too long for the job to be worth keeping.”

    Fair enough, and I’m not in front of a television right now, so I may stand to be corrected–but is what they are reporting on television about the legitimate impacts of losing a major causeway, or is it more along the lines of “It felt like an earthquake and it was terrible and here is the video again”?

    The internet coverage isn’t really focused on the impact to commerce, ground transportation, or local/regional economic impacts; at least, not as far as I can see.

    This issue has bugged me for a long time, so anytime it comes up–sensational news reporting instead of substantive–it gets me a little riled….

  18. CNN had a phone interview with one of the quick thinkers who escaped from their own car, saw the bus in trouble, and helped (along with apparently many others) get all of the kids to safety, some as young as four.

    Even so, it’s amazing that those people not only survived the fall, but could walk away and offer help to others. What was it–a 65-foot plunge? I don’t understand the physics involved–if I’m in an elevator that crash-lands after freefalling six and a half stories I wouldn’t be able to walk away, and probably wouldn’t even survive. Is it that the shock absorbers in the vehicles absorbed most of the impact?

  19. wow – I didn’t know about that collapse on 95 in Greenwich. I drive over that bridge like every day.

  20. Of course things with good video footage get more coverage on TV. That’s obvious. If you don’t have video of something, then TV news basically becomes radio; just a bunch of people talking.

    That being said, the fact that part of a major freeway is no longer there is a bigger story than a single car accident. Also, this was the equilvalent of a hundred-car pileup to start with. Basically, the number of deaths is not the only thing that makes any particular story newsworthy.

  21. There were serveral reports of a large, winged humanoid creature with glowing red eyes seen in the Minneapolis area over the past several weeks. It’s Point Pleasant, West Vriginia all over again, but you’ll never read about it. Vincenzo’s getting leaned on by City Hall to keep the story quiet

  22. that was a scary scary movie

  23. Is it that the shock absorbers in the vehicles absorbed most of the impact?

    Some of it, sure, but that is hardly the only only factor. Padded seats, and other safety features probably played a bigger role…vehicles are designed to make you safe in a crash. The forces involved in the fall are probably not as high. Main danger is avoiding drowning and stuff falling on top of you.

    Paging Dr. T…

  24. This issue has bugged me for a long time, so anytime it comes up–sensational news reporting instead of substantive–it gets me a little riled….

    That’s all tee-vee news is any longer; substance was sacrificed to the gods of expediency and filling air time. It no longer riles me up as I stopped watching it long ago.

    That said, a bridge collapse in a metropolitain area is *big* news, sensationalism or not. It was above the fold in the DC papers this morning and probably others as well, but I haven’t seen those yet.

    That 76 people died in Iraq not being covered doesn’t reduce the tragedy of the event, but it’s not “local” and let’s face it, it’s unfortunately becoming routine. Bridges don’t collapse every day and it makes for very dramatic video to sell soap with.

    I doubt a bridge collapse in France would get ’round-the-clock coverage here, barring some significant connection to the US.

  25. I have to agree with A Bit of a Jerk. Of course this story merits coverage, but the round-the-clock routine on the news networks is over the top. The coverage does, in fact, consist of a focus on the most sensational elements. Some of that is excusable; people will tune in to the goriest, most sensational presentation.
    Jennifer mentioned several good reasons for extensive coverage, but those elements of the story are being ignored, for the most part.
    This kind of sensationalism is one of the reasons I want out of journalism. Of course, the slow death of the print industry also has something to do with that.

  26. Shock absorbers, padded seats, seatbelts (maybe), large span of bridge falling at a speed and short distance where vehicles probably wouldn’t lose contact with asphalt, large span of pretty thick bridge, which gives a little upon impact, absorbing most of impact with water which also gives a little…etc etc etc…

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that few of the dead actually died because of the impact, as opposed to extenuating circumstances (heart attack, drowning, etc.)…

  27. Remember when that fuel truck caught on fire and destroyed a freeway ramp in San Francisco? Remember how somebody started a “truther” spoof site? I wonder how long it will take for that to happen again.

    My guess is that bridge collapse will be studied a lot more seriously and transparently than the collapse of the twin towers and WTC7.

  28. I don’t see the mystery behind the media’s motives. American tragedy that affects its own citizens has a higher priority to them compared to tragedy in other countries. Sad but true.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this. I went to college in Minneapolis and lived there for a number of years, this is a main vein in the heart of the city. This tragedy will affect everyone from the increased amount of traffic on other highways. The Met Council is probably in chaos right now.

  29. Downtown Minneapolis was fairly chaotic last night. I live downtown, about 20 blocks from that bridge. I saw emergency vehicles zipping by on Hennepin for something like an hour…followed by heavy excavating equipment.

    It’s a strange occurence, and yes one of my first thoughts was the Silver Bridge collapse.

    We’re all wondering, now, how long it will take for MnDot to rebuild it.

    Out here.

  30. On NPR this morning, I heard the science reporter say that bridge collapses are “unusual.”

    Well, no fucking duh! I don’t think we’d have so many bridges if they were prone to collapse.

  31. That’s hilarious, highnumber.

  32. I don’t understand the physics involved–if I’m in an elevator that crash-lands after freefalling six and a half stories I wouldn’t be able to walk away, and probably wouldn’t even survive.

    The biggest issue is that the collapse of the roadway itself was very unlikely to actually be free-fall. There was, after all, lots of steel beneath the roadway buckling, bending, and snapping while absorbing a great deal of energy. This both cushions the fall itself as well as keeps cars’ tires on the road surface until the roadway tips too much or stops at the bottom.

  33. As for the news aspect… Yes, TV coverage of an event like this it is awfully repetitive and mind numbing. I learned that long ago. I watch until they start repeating themselves. Then I stop watching. It’s actually pretty simple. Really.

    Incidentally, switching away from the bridge coverage last night found me staring into the hideous visage of Nancy Grace haranguing any and all about cabinet toddlers. If I have to be strapped to a chair with my eyes taped open watching 24-hour news coverage, I’ll take the bridge collapse, thank you.

  34. Someone compared it to Manhattan losing the George Washington Bridge.

    That’s kind of silly. The GWB is alone for miles in either direction. A quick glance at a map of Minneapolis shows eight bridges near the I35. I’m sure they’ll make do.

  35. That’s kind of silly. The GWB is alone for miles in either direction. A quick glance at a map of Minneapolis shows eight bridges near the I35. I’m sure they’ll make do.

    Not in DC. There are about 6 or 7 brdges total crossing the Potomac, including the bridges for I-95. During rush hour, they all run over capacity. If we lost any one of them, it would result in one ginormous clusterfuck for rush hour and beyond. It would be just that ugly.

  36. large span of bridge falling at a speed and short distance where vehicles probably wouldn’t lose contact with asphalt

    It is physically impossible for a bridge to fall fast enough to cause the vehicles to lose contact with it. Now if the angle of the deck passes some critical point the cars will slide off the end, so if that is what you meant, then yes that is possible. However, in that case the speed of the collapse has nothing to do with it as even a slow failure that leads to the deck tilting too far will cause the same thing. In no case is it possible for cars to essentially “float” off the deck as it falls away from them.

  37. Another reason why there are less dead than you’d expect: The bridge was nowhere near as high as it looks on television. For a minute, before I caught a landmark to the side, I didn’t really recognize it from the helicopter views–and it’s only a couple hundred yards away from here. The longest spans that fell didn’t fall far. It wasn’t even loud. There was a shake, but it was like a train passing unusually quickly. That’s what I thought it was.

    A quick glance at a map of Minneapolis shows eight bridges near the I35.

    They don’t go to or come from the same places, and some of them aren’t for cars. Having lived near both, I’d say the GW comparison is pretty fair, though not in scale. They’re used similarly. It’s a problem.

  38. “I’m surprised (and relieved) by how low the death toll has been so far.”

    Reports are that there are “dozens” of vehicles submerged in the river. I’d like to think that they’re all empty, but my gut tells me different.

  39. Remember when that fuel truck caught on fire and destroyed a freeway ramp in San Francisco? Remember how somebody started a “truther” spoof site? I wonder how long it will take for that to happen again.

    That was in Oakland. And it was in Oakland where I first encountered the conspiracy theory behind its collapse. I was arguing with a Truther over Rosie’s melting steel comment, and said that the steel in that ramp twisted and warped in the diesel fuel fire. His response:

    “Yeah! I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn that Cheney did it! It was all a setup! He did it just so people would think fire really can melt steel!”

    This was at a Ron Paul Meetup, and was where I first learned that the Belleview escapees outnumber the libertarians at such events. Even the gays were embarassed to be seen with them.

  40. And Pandagon blames libertarians! God that site is so awful.

  41. And Pandagon blames libertarians! God that site is so awful.

    The funny part is, Minnesota is one of the most liberal states in the union, with one of the highest tax rates, and some of the highest spending for public infrastructure.

    Get back to us when a bridge collapses in Wyoming or New Hampshire.

  42. Due to political gridlock, Minnesota has not been raising funds for infrastructure support for some time now. So I don’t know if I’d say “highest spending for public infrastructure” is actually true in this case.

    And if it is, that says a hell of a lot about what’s liable to be lying out there waiting for us in other states.

    (You might also want to compare and contrast the number of people passing over bridges in the two states you mentioned to the number going over the bridge in Minneapolis.)

    Me, I’d prefer a government that puts $$ into infrastructure. Speaking of $$$ that could be put to better use, how about some of that moolah that’s getting pissed away in the sands of Iraq right now? Not to mention the lives.

  43. That “highest spending for public infrastructure” has a lot to do with the fact that the roads take a beating from the temperature differential between summer and winter. It’s pretty amazing that the roads are in as good of shape as they are.

  44. Marcvs, you’ve just reminded me of my experiences driving in a Liberty Jeep around Dallas. Rain on unsealed roads…..not good, not good.

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