Beams of the 35W bridge not lost

The beams still litter the Bohemian Flats — maybe for the better.

The Bohemian Flats were once a public space, green and open to all. Yet for nearly three years, a wire fence has closed a lot — now sprouting with weeds — and green fields off from public access. The fields, which derive their color as much from the grass as the beams resting upon it, host wreckage from the I-35W bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145. The beams, twisted from their sad plummet into the Mississippi River and rusting from exposure to the elements, lie as a silent reminder of a noisy day three years ago, a tragedy still played out in court today.

Upstream from this wreckage, traffic crosses a new 35W bridge. The memory of the old one is now distant. At the University of Minnesota, the beams form part of the local history, as much as the river into which they fell and the campus buildings that the collapse shook. The majority of current students have never known the campus without them, have never looked down from the Washington Avenue Bridge to see a park free of twisted steal and dense weeds. For three years now, the wreckage has called the Bohemian Flats its home.

The beams stay in the park because the legal process has required they remain, so experts can examine them as evidence in the many lawsuits stemming from the collapse. While they rust even more, the victims of the collapse and their families try to hold someone responsible for what happened that fateful August day. Bridges, after all, are not supposed to collapse.

So the beams will continue to lie in the Bohemian Flats. To those who pass, the wreckage forms another, perhaps unusual, part of the local scenery. To the victims and their families, it represents a chance at compensation for the suffering caused by the collapse. As its third anniversary arrives Aug. 1, the broken beams should remind us all of the uncertainties of life, while the rust slowly paints us a picture of its potential for longevity and change.