The bridge collapse: a look back and ahead

A look back at the events that followed the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge and what is still pending.

FILE PHOTO August 1, 2007.

Matt Mead

FILE PHOTO August 1, 2007.

The anniversary of the Interstate 35W Bridge collapse passed quietly Saturday, marking two years since the structure fell into the Mississippi River, killing 13 and injuring 145. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak ordered a moment of silence at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, the moment the bridge fell, declaring it “Interstate 35W Bridge Memorial Day.âÄù But no gatherings reached the magnitude of last yearâÄôs anniversary, when hundreds marched from Gold Medal Park to the Stone Arch Bridge to view the collapse site. Despite the silent passing of the day, issues and controversy surrounding the catastrophe are far from over, with wreckage from the incident still sprawled across city park land and more than 100 lawsuits in limbo, including one filed by the state last week.

Lawsuits

More than 100 lawsuits are pending from victims who accuse the engineering firm that studied the bridge, and a construction company who had materials on the bridge the day it collapsed of negligence. The state filed a suit against URS Corp. last week, saying the San Francisco-based engineering inspection company should have found the flaw that led to the collapse. A statement from URS said that state officials initially did not accuse them of being responsible for the collapse, and said the company would defend itself âÄúvigorouslyâÄù from the state’s efforts to regain more than $37 million it paid out to 179 settlements in April. The soonest the lawsuits could be in court is by December 2010, said Richard Nygaard, an attorney with Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, the law firm representing more than 20 cases suing URS Corp. and Progressive Contractors Inc. Chris Messerly, one of a consortium of lawyers representing more than 90 victims in 79 law suits, said they expect their first court appearances then as well.

Wreckage

The mangled beams of steel from the old bridge are still sprawled across the Bohemian Flats parkland along the Mississippi River, a constant reminder of the event and that things still arenâÄôt settled. The Minnesota Department of Transportation went to Hennepin County in May seeking legal protection to move the pieces to a new facility. But the county denied their request, and MnDOT opted to leave the pieces there to avoid trouble with lawyers who consider the beams evidence in their pending litigations. âÄúSome of the attorneys from the various lawsuits have said if you move that steel you will damage the evidence and we will hold you accountable,âÄù Kevin Gutknecht, spokesman for MnDOT, said. âÄúItâÄôs a nice park area, Minneapolis wants it back and we want to give it back but we canâÄôt do anything right now because we donâÄôt want legal troubles.âÄù Gutknecht said the department is negotiating a move with different parties, but nothing is finalized yet.

Moving forward

Pawlenty and Rybak unveiled the 35W Bridge Remembrance Garden last year at a press conference announcing the opening of the bridge to the public. The leaders are recruiting members to serve on a fundraising committee, which will work to raise $1 million to build the memorial. The plan is to officially launch the fundraising effort in the fall. About $200,000 has already been raised from corporations and individuals. The University of Minnesota is also involved in monitoring the new I-35W bridge with more than 500 sensors that keep track of temperature, vehicle loads and required maintenance. Catherine French, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, said that while the technology they are monitoring now is complex, the hope is to simplify it and pass it off to MnDOT, who could then use it to monitor bridges across the state. âÄúThere is interest nationally and internationally in these systems,âÄù she said. âÄúWe are setting new ground in trying to develop a system that can be used over the long term to understand behavior of bridges.âÄù

Timeline

Aug. 1, 2007 — At 6:05 p.m., the I-35W Bridge collapses into the Mississippi River. Aug. 2, 2007 âÄì United States Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announces a $5 million grant for cleanup and recovery, the National Transportation Safety Board says itâÄôs too early to determine what caused the collapse and Pawlenty orders an immediate inspection of all bridges in Minnesota that have a design similar to that of the I-35W Bridge. Aug. 3, 2007 âÄì Legislation proposed to earmark a minimum of $250 million to help replace the bridge unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Sept. 4, 2007 âÄì The 10th Avenue Bridge opens to the public after being closed because of its proximity to the collapse site and use in search and rescue efforts. Sept. 19, 2007 âÄì MnDOT announces that Flatiron Construction Corp. would replace the bridge for $234 million. Nov. 1, 2007 âÄì Students gather in front of Coffman Memorial Union to remember the victims of the bridge collapse. Dec. 17, 2007 âÄì The first slab of concrete is poured off-site, which began to shape the bridge. Dec. 26, 2007 âÄì President George W. Bush signs the spending bill that includes funding for the bridge. Jan. 15, 2008 âÄì The NTSB announces they had determined that the bridge’s design specified steel gusset plates that were undersized and inadequate to support the load of the bridge. U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, criticizes the early remarks. April 8, 2008 âÄì MnDOT announces that they reached the halfway point of construction, and predicted that completion might be ahead of schedule by as much as three months. Aug. 1, 2008 âÄì On the one-year anniversary of the collapse, hundreds gather in Gold Medal Park and walk to Stone Arch Bridge to view the site and reflect in a moment of silence. Minnesota closed half-dozen bridges since the collapse for safety concerns. Sept. 18, 2008 âÄì The new bridge, formally called the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge, opens to the public at 5 a.m., well ahead of the original goal date of December 24. Nov. 13, 2008 âÄì The NTSB releases the findings of its investigation, citing undersized gusset plates and weight on the bridge as the cause of the collapse. On the same day, the first four of what will be many lawsuits are filed against the URS Corp. and PCI. Nov. 19, 2008 âÄì The University releases preliminary results of a study on the bridge collapse. Their findings support those of the NTSB. April 3, 2009 âÄì Fifteen more lawsuits, comprising 17 plaintiffs, are filed in Hennepin County District Court. April 16, 2009 âÄì The state of Minnesota deals out $36.6 million in settlements for victims of the collapse. May 2009 âÄì MnDOT officials try to gain legal protection from Hennepin County to move the beams from the collapsed bridge from Bohemian Flats to a new facility. The county denies protection. June 17, 2009 âÄì Lawsuits representing nearly 80 victims, survivors and relatives are served against URS Corp. and PCI claiming the two companies’ negligence led to the collapse of the old bridge. July 31, 2009 âÄì The state of Minnesota sues URS Corp. for failing to identify the flaw that led the collapse. Aug. 1, 2009 âÄì The two year anniversary of the collapses passes without a public memorial.