Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tragedy in Minneapolis...and America

It was 6:05 PM Wednesday evening. Commuters in Minneapolis were grinding along in the typically heavy downtown traffic that the Lowry Tunnel complex is known for. Several lanes of the eight lane I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River were closed as MNDOT crews worked on resurfacing the 40-year old structure.

Suddenly, the bridge started to buckle. And then it collapsed. All 1,900 steel-trussed feet of it. A number of cars dropped over 60 feet into the river below. Luckily, only four fatalities have been confirmed as of this time, though the number could exceed 30. Yet it was perhaps the most devastating bridge disaster in our nation since the I-880 double-decker Cypress Structure in Oakland, CA collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, a tragedy that killed 40.

I write about this because it hit home for me. I lived in the Minneapolis area for 16 years, and occasionally crossed the bridge. I still have family living there (though I figured right away that none of them ever really go near the bridge, and in this case, they haven't). In all those times, I didn't really think much about the I-35W bridge. Not many others did either, save for highway and bridge enthusiasts. The bridge didn't even have a name. The official name of it was the generic Bridge 9340. It was merely just a way to get across the river. Like most bridges, most people took it for granted. Yet, it was perhaps one of the most-traveled pieces of highway in the state of Minnesota. The bridge connected Downtown Minneapolis to the northeast part of town (often referred to as "Nordeast"), as well as various highly populated northern suburbs.

It's safe to say that commuting in the Twin Cities will be an absolute nightmare for years to come, as the government figures out how to replace it. I-35W is an important artery in the state. Coming from either Duluth in the north or from many states in the south, I-35 splits in two just outside the metro. Pass-through traffic is directed to take the much-larger I-35W through Minneapolis, as the other fork, I-35E, is a smaller freeway that goes through neighboring St. Paul. At one point just south of that city's downtown, it scales down to a four lane 'parkway' with a 45 mph speed limit (a compromise with residents of the well-to-do Summit neighborhood the road travels through). Big trucks are prohibited.

So, now that I've bored many of you with Twin Cities traffic reports, the bottom line is that our infrastructure is crumbling. This morning, President Bush made the boneheaded move of blaming Democrats in Congress for stonewalling his budget. Pretty sleazy, particularly since The White House planned on spending less money than Congress wanted to upgrade highways anyway. Hey, war costs money, ya know. Not to mention Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, has been in charge of the state for the past five years, and detests spending money on frivilous stuff like roads. He vetoed a nickle gas tax increase that would have gone toward this. Even after the bridge was found to have flaws. Much as I detest taxes myself (everybody does), the roads need to be funded somehow. I wonder how this childish finger-wagging will play out at the GOP Convention in St. Paul next summer.

Now, I really hate to blame anyone for any of this. This is not the time to point fingers, to play the 'bloods and crips' game. It all goes beyond that. Listening to the stream from WCCO Radio in Minneapolis this morning (as I sampled some of the live video streams from a few Twin Cities stations last night), the on-air hosts are ripping all of the politicians, from Bush's blame game to Democrats and Republicans alike seemingly more concerned about fighting for television face time. They're obviously tired of all this nonsense, and just want to see things get done. I certainly can't disagree with them.

Regardless of all this, one thing is fact. Our nation is crumbling. How many more bridges will collapse? How many other cities will be wiped out, like New Orleans? How many cities will be attacked by terrorists, because the government ignored intelligence reports and warnings? Time may tell, but I'm getting on the soapbox to scream that this shit has got to stop. Now.

To get the whole story from where it's all happening, forget the national broadcast pundits who consider Minneapolis that cold place they fly over to get from the East Coast to the West Coast. As with any disaster, it's often best to go to the local newspeople who have to deal with it on a personal level. In this case, the local Twin Cities media is providing amazing coverage and analysis. And local radio and television stations are providing live streams of their coverage. Check these out:


WCCO 830 (recommended)
Minnesota Public Radio (recommended)
KSTP 1500



Here are the two local newspapers:

Minneapolis Star Tribune
St. Paul Pioneer Press

In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Twin Cities, as well as the victims of this terrible tragedy and their families.


  © Blogger template Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP