"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Regarding the Bridge Collapse

Darling readers, I am fresh out of funny today.

Last night, the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour. I was not there; I rarely traveled that bridge. To the best of my knowledge, no one of my acquaintance was there. The first I heard of it was an announcement over the PA at the Metrodome, informing us of the tragedy and asking us all to stay for the game, so as not to add traffic to an already chaotic situation on downtown roads.

I have not been directly affected, except...

Except, I live here. Minneapolis is my home, and disaster has struck it. My life, my community, my plans for the future all have "Minneapolis, Minnesota" writ large across them, and this terrible thing has happened here.

We know that a 2001 inspection revealed "fatigue cracking" in the bridge supports, but concluded that it was still sound and did not require immediate intervention. We know that in 2005 a federal report labeled the bridge "structurally deficient", but that this designation is somewhat vague and, more to the point, applies to thousands upon thousands of bridges nationwide which haven't exactly been falling down in droves. Bridges can be classified structurally deficient due to any number of problems, many of which are not a source of immediate danger.

We do not know what the problems with the I-35 bridge were, or how serious they were deemed. We do not know whose responsibility it was to monitor the bridge, or whether they followed proper procedures. We do not know if this was at all predictable. We want to know. We want to be angry and to punish, because then we will feel as if we are doing something, creating something out of this twisted mass of steel, concrete and horror.

Let us leave aside blame for now. There will be plenty to go around when we know why this happened. That may be months or even years in the future. Regardless of how long it takes, why open new wounds which may be undeserved? Sorrow and gratitude is the harder road, but the better.

There is a good deal to be sorrowful for. For the dead and their families, first and foremost. For the physical and mental trauma of the surviving victims, next. For our own sense of safety and trust in public works. For the city, reeling and confused today, with years of disorder and band-aid traffic solutions ahead. For all the things which will be neglected or downsized or ended for lack of a piece of the hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to rebuild.

There is also a good deal to be grateful for. Due to resurfacing, the 8-lane bridge was down to two. Imagine how many more cars might have been on it otherwise. The most-occupied vehicle involved in the collapse--a school bus carrying around 60 people--was not the site of any death or even serious injuries. The train traveling under the bridge at the time was carrying freight, not passengers. The Twin Cities boast three Level One trauma centers. (Many cities, even larger cities than this, have only one. Some have none.) The best possible emergency care for the victims was not only available, it was abundant. And let us not forget the citizens and rescue workers who rushed headlong into chaos and saved lives while risking their own.

We do not know why this happened. We may not know for years. We will all, I expect, flinch a little when passing under or over a bridge for a while. There will be memorial services, public announcements, political wrangling and fiercely-argued theories from the mundane to the boggling in the days ahead. There will be a flurry of bridge inspections, and alarming news reports on the results. Finances and partisanship willing, repairs will be undertaken. Minneapolis will knit itself back together. Memories, anguish and even blame will fade.

Someday, there will be a new bridge for I-35. And someday later still, we will drive over the new bridge and casually say, "Remember when...?"

4 rejoinders:

Baseball_Lipgloss sounded off...

That was beautifully written. I have been fielding calls from family, friends and out-of-town co-workers checking to see if we (myself and anyone I know) are okay.

Lisa O sounded off...

You were the only person I thought I knew that could possibly have been on the bridge at the time. Then I heard that there was a Twins game and I knew you had to be safe. Thank the Gods that everyone I know are fine. My heart is aching for the familys though. Been fighting back tears for them all day.

twayn sounded off...

Eloquent.

Beth sounded off...

Thank you for your words. I do not know of anyone there either, which seems incredible since it is such a well-trafficked area and I live two miles from there. Unbelievable how life changes in an instant...