1-35 Bridge collapse forced changes

Ten years ago today the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis suddenly shuddered and collapsed, sending dozens of cars, trucks and buses tumbling. Some stayed on the collapsed bridge decking, others tumbled into the water. A massive rescue effort began immediately, but in the end 13 people died, and 145 were injured. Many of those injured endured months and years of rehabilitation, both physical and mental, to recover from the trauma.

The collapse was ultimately blamed on a design flaw — gusset plates holding steel beams together were half as thick as they should have been, cracked under the repeated stress, and gave way under the added weight of 300 tons of construction materials stockpiled on the bridge for renovations.

The horrible tragedy focused a sharp light on not only a state, but a national scandal — for too long states across the country had been putting off expensive repairs to increasingly bridges that were becoming increasingly worn out and crumbling.

Minnesota lawmakers had been fighting over finding more money for transportation, with Gov. Tim Pawlenty holding fast to no increase for gas taxes. The bridge disaster broke the stalemate, with the first increase in the gasoline tax in years approved over his veto. The state embarked on a program to inspect every bridge in the state and bring those judged deficient into better repair.

Today the new I-35 bridge stands as a memorial and a symbol of what happens when we let transportation infrastructure repair go untended. The lesson is clear: we can pay now with taxes and public funding for safer, better roads and bridges, or we can pay later with lives. This 10th anniversary of the I-35 bridge collapse should be a reminder to lawmakers about their public responsibility.