Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Officials hail new I-35W bridge and the workers who made it happen

By Dan Haugen | Monday, Sept. 15, 2008
Thursday is opening day for the replacement structure.

State, local and federal officials today announced plans for the new I-35W bridge's opening.
MinnPost photo by Dan Haugen
State, local and federal officials today announced plans for the new I-35W bridge’s opening.

The replacement I-35W bridge, ready nearly three months early, will open Thursday morning, a massive array of state, local and federal officials announced today at a morning news conference at the south end of the new structure.

They also announced plans for an elaborate garden monument commemorating the 13 persons who died during the bridge’s collapse more than 13 months ago. Officials also praised the workers who completed the structure far ahead of schedule — and the bipartisan spirit that helped moved the process along.

All but the finishing touches of the bridge are complete.

Here’s an overview of the bridge and details on its opening, based on information from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and officials’ comments at today’s session. (If you have additional questions about the bridge, please submit them in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to answer them.)

When will the bridge open?

5 a.m. Thursday (about three months ahead of schedule).

Who will be the first to drive across it?

Minnesota state troopers will line up across the highway lanes at each end of the bridge, and the public can line up behind them. When the construction barricades are removed, the troopers will slowly drive across, allowing others to follow behind them.

What work still needs to be done?

Officials are planning a final safety walk-through and inspection of the bridge before it opens. Contractors will continue final project work at off-site areas and the project office in the coming week, but no closure or traffic disruptions are expected.

What about other closures near the bridge?

West River Parkway on the south side of the river and Second Street on the north side will open to traffic when the new I-35W Bridge does, according to MnDOT. Park areas and a new south-side observation deck at the foot of the bridge piers will also open to pedestrians. The bike tunnel on the south side of the river and the north-side observation deck will open in the future.

Workers labored around the clock to complete the bridge ahead of schedule.
Courtesy of MnDOT
Workers labored around the clock to complete the bridge ahead of schedule.

How much did the bridge cost to build?

Construction costs totaled $234 million, not including the bonuses Flatiron-Manson is expected to receive for completing the project ahead of schedule. Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the closure and detours cost the state’s economy an estimated $400,000 a day in added travel and other expenses.

How long did it take to build?

Flatiron-Manson was given notice to start construction on Oct. 15, 2007, about 10 weeks after its Aug. 1 collapse. Today marks 337 days of construction work on the project.

How will the 13 people who died be remembered?

A memorial is planned at Gold Medal Park, just west of the bridge. The Remembrance Garden was designed by Tom Oslund, the landscape architect who also designed the park. “The idea of the memorial is, really, simplicity,” Oslund said. It will include 13 upright metal I-beams engraved with the names of the people who lost their lives in the collapse. The beams will sit inside an 81-foot rock square (commemorating the 8-1 date of the bridge’s collapse). A 13-foot-wide black granite fountain will sit in the middle of a 65-foot-wide circle plaza (with the width commemorating the 6:05 p.m. time of collapse).

Who will pay for the memorial?

Gov. Pawlenty and Mayor Rybak today announced an effort to raised $1 million to construct and maintain the Remembrance Garden.  Gifts already have been received from Flatiron Construction, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Capella University, the Minneapolis Building and Constructions Trade Council, Oslund and Associates and William and Nadine McGuire. More information is available here.

A Remembrance Garden will pay tribute to the 13 who died in the bridge's collapse.
Courtesy of Oslund and Associates
A Remembrance Garden will pay tribute to the 13 who died in the bridge’s collapse.

How do we know the new bridge is safe?

The bridge was constructed with multiple layers of redundancy, according to MnDOT officials. A multi-layered inspection process occurred at each step of construction. Corrosion-resistant steel rebar crosses the width and length of the bridge within the high-strength concrete. It’s also equipped with state-of-the-art “smart bridge” technology that will monitor its condition.

What’s “smart bridge” technology?

The bridge is equipped with several sensors and instruments that monitor and report real-time data to computers at MnDOT. Strain gauges measure how the structure responss to loads. Other devices detect expansion- joint movements. Chloride sensors provide data to help schedule maintenance, and infrared security cameras and motion detectors are designed to guard against unauthorized activity in and around the bridge.

How long is the bridge expected to last?

The bridge was designed and built to last a minimum of 100 years, according to MnDOT.

A sampler: What officials said today
Officials on hand for today’s news conference today included Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, both of the state’s U.S. senators and nearly its entire congressional delegation. In remarks, they remembered those who lost their lives when the old bridge collapsed. They also noted the bipartisan cooperation that allowed efficient policy and financing decisions for the new bridge. Several also thanked the workers who helped finish the bridge in less than a year of work.

Here are some selected quotations from today’s remarks:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
“Thirteen months ago, Minnesota experienced a tragedy of historic proportions. We saw in that event the very worst, but we also saw the best of Minnesota in the response from our citizens.”

MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel
“It really couldn’t have happened without the dedication, incredible determination and sheer will of those who built it. And I am very, very proud of all the Minnesota workers on this project … Under our feet is proof of just how good they are.”

Article continues after advertisement

Mayor R.T. Rybak
“The message out of today is very clear. We learned a year ago what happens when a bridge collapses. And today, I believe we show what happens when every arm of this community reaches across this river and builds connections that are far stronger than concrete and steel.”

Congressman James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
“Out of mind-numbing tragedy has come an engineering marvel. Out of the rubble of the failure of a bridge has come a lesson for the future of bridge engineering and construction. We’ve learned lessons that can be applied in all parts of America.”

Congressman Keith Ellison
“I hope that we can continue to keep this tragedy in mind as we go forward into the future… We’ve got to use this as a call to action to rebuild the bridges, the dikes, the roads, the transit systems, the water systems in our nation so that they will be safe and serve the needs of the people, and also put Americans to work.”

Congressman Tim Walz
“Politics and governance are not synonymous, but there are time when they cross each other’s path at a perfect sweet spot, and that sweet spot was on the rebuilding of this bridge; showing what we could do when we came together; showing when we came together for common purpose, not division, what could happen.”

Dan Haugen is a Minneapolis-based reporter who writes about business and other topics for MinnPost. He can be reached at dhaugen [at] minnpost [dot] com.