I-35W bridge collapse’s five-year anniversary nears

by Howard Lestrud
ECM Publishers
Online managing editor

In about three weeks many of us will be paying tribute to the 13 persons killed and 145 persons injured when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed during rush hour Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge (officially known as Bridge 9340) was an eight-lane, steel truss arch bridge that carried Interstate 35W across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

What was once a busy highway was turned into a pile of broken concrete with cars and trucks among the rubble. Also pictured is a Taystee bread truck that ignited after the bridge collapse.

Bookmark a Wikipedia Web page to learn more about the history of Bridge 9340 and how the bridge was rebuilt. The new bridge structure is called the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-35W_Mississippi_River_bridge.

The bridge was Minnesota’s fifth busiest, carrying 140,000 vehicles daily. The NTSB cited a design flaw as the likely cause of the collapse, and asserted that additional weight on the bridge at the time of the collapse contributed to the catastrophic failure.

Immediately after the collapse, help came from mutual aid in the seven county Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area and emergency response personnel, charities, and volunteers. Within a few days of the collapse, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) planned a replacement bridge, the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge. Construction was completed rapidly, and it opened on Sept. 18, 2008.

A new exhibit, entitled “81 MINUTES: After the Bridge Collapsed,” opened June 30 and tells the story and remembers the victims of the I-35W bridge collapse. The exhibit is located at the Firefighters Hall and Museum, 664 22nd Ave. N.E., Minneapolis.

This exhibit documents the 35W bridge collapse in greater detail. The firefighters exhibit commemorates the fifth anniversary of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapse and the astonishing rescue efforts in the minutes and hours following. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 31. Admission: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for children 3–12.

Michael Stoner held the hand of his fiancée, Crystal Manning, after they escaped the wreckage of the collapsed bridge.

The exhibit features pictures and quotes that capture the minutes between when dispatchers received the first call and the moment they cleared the last survivor from the bridge.

A KARE 11 news report quoted Steve Skaar, a volunteer at the Firefighters Hall & Museum where the exhibit will remain permanently housed: “This is all about what they faced that day, what these first responders faced that day.”

The exhibit also features video documentation — including stories that aired on KARE 11 News on Aug. 1, 2007, and the days that followed.

“I just need to see this once in a while to know that there’s more to life than just going to work and coming home. And this can happen in an instant,” said Jeanine Greenlee, who wanted to visit the exhibit on its first day.

The tribute to the 35W first responders is part of a larger “Minnesota Disasters” exhibit — the bulk of which will be leaving the museum in August in order to tour throughout the state.

For more information about the museum, including location and hours, just go to: www.firehallmuseum.org.

Read more about the Firefighters Hall and Museum in Northeast Minneapolis by going to about.com: http://minneapolis.about.com/od/familieschildren/a/firefightershal.htm.

The shock and horror of the collapse visibly affected emergency crews as they searched for people on Aug. 1, 2007.

We read: “The Firefighters Hall and Museum, in Northeast Minneapolis, is dedicated to preserving vintage firefighting equipment. The museum cares for a horse-drawn pumper, a beautiful brass steam-powered fire engine, fire trucks from the 1930s, and many more fire trucks and fire engines dating back 100 years.

“Firefighting equipment that many of us have only seen in comics or cartoons are here. Fire departments and rescue crews really did use nets with targets drawn in the center to catch people who jumped from burning buildings, and here is one such net on display here. And yes, fire stations really did have dalmatian dogs – you can find out why at the Firefighters Hall and Museum.

“And there is a huge array of other vintage firefighting equipment. This is a hands-on museum, and has many items that can be touched, tried on (like helmets and boots), slid down (a firefighter’s pole) and climbed in (some of the trucks) to make this a fascinating day out.

“Children can also pump water, operate a fire alarm telegraph system and pretend to drive a ladder truck. There are survivors from before the days of cellphones — a vintage telephone switchboard which operators used to manually connect calls, and a working fire box used in days gone by to alert the fire station to an emergency — on display.

“As well as the remarkable exhibits, the museum has a serious mission, too. Active and retired firefighters help to run the museum and teach pre-school and school age children, as well as adults, about fire safety. The museum works with local schools and fire departments to teach fire safety to visiting children’s groups. Families visiting can learn about fire safety from the museum’s displays and the immensely knowledgeable volunteers on duty.

The Firefighters Hall and Museum is open to all on Saturdays all year round. Between June 30 and Labor Day, the Firefighters Hall and Museum is also open on Sundays. Groups can visit the museum on other days by appointment.

“On Saturdays from April until October, a ride in a real fire truck is included with admission — highly recommended and great fun even for adults.”

Hundreds of people turned out in downtown Minneapolis almost a year ago (Aug. 1, 2011) for the dedication of a remembrance garden, in memorial of the 35W bridge victims and survivors.

The memorial overlooks the spot on the Mississippi River where the 35W bridge collapsed in 2007. A memorial wall is inscribed with the names of survivors of the bridge collapse and the words, “Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.”

The new I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge opened to traffic at 5 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, more than three months early. My neighbor Bud Schmuck and I viewed the new bridge on the day it opened. We parked on 10th Street and walked over that bridge to get a breathtaking glimpse of the 189-foot wide, 10-lane bridge. The bridge is light rail transport-ready which may help accommodate future transportation needs.

Share your memories of I-35W bridge collapse
The Star News is planning to run a story (or more) on the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse, but first we would like to hear from our readers. Tell us your recollections and/or connections to that fateful day we as state will never forget. Email us at [email protected] soon.