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Freeway Bridge Collapses in Minneapolis
By Mitch Traphagen mitch@observernews.net
Aug 2, 2007, 22:46

This file photo above 35W indicates the level of traffic normally experienced on the major freeway. The bridge collapse occurred a few miles north of this vantage point. File photo by Mitch Traphagen
MINNEAPOLIS - The entire span of an Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis has collapsed.  The tragedy occurred at approximately 6:05 Central Time during rush hour traffic - and only an hour before a Minnesota Twins baseball game at the nearby Metrodome.

Over the night, the death toll had been reduced from seven to four with at least 58 injured.  Many, however, are still missing.

According to sources on the scene, minor construction was being performed on the bridge and traffic was heavy at the time of collapse.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, terrorism is not suspected.  Beneath the bridge was another road and a pedestrian walkway.  Minneapolis fire chief Jim Clack said he expects the number of fatalities to increase as the operation shifts from rescue to recovery.  An estimated 50 cars were searched in the river with more possible underwater.  A school bus was involved in the collapse however all the children were safely evacuated.

The bridge, built in 1967, was inspected last year.  According to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, no major structural issues were indicated in that inspection.

Around the Tampa Bay area, The Sunshine Skyway Bridge with the world's longest cable stayed span, was opened in 1987 after a freighter accident destroyed the southbound span of the original bridge that had been built in 1954.  In that accident, which occurred on May 9, 1980, 35 people were killed as six cars and a Greyhound bus plunged into Tampa Bay at the collapse.  Recently, corrosion problems had been a cause for concern on the current bridge, however the superstructure had been reinforced in 2004.  FDOT is currently repainting the cables and retaining walls as well as updating the lighting.

The Howard Frankland Bridge, connecting Tampa to St. Petersburg, was originally built in 1959.  A new span, the southbound lanes, opened in 1990 and the original bridge was reconstructed and opened as the northbound lanes in 1992.

The Gandy Bridge, originally opened in 1924, has been replaced and updated several times over the years.  The westbound span was built in 1996, the eastbound span was built in 1976.

In South Hillsborough, repairs were completed on the I-75 Alafia River Bridge in 2001.  According to FDOT, deteriorated timbers on the fender system were repaired as well as improvements made to the riding surface.  Part of the project goals included increasing the lifespan of the bridge and to reduce the chance of unplanned, emergency repairs.

According to a 2002 Conditions and Performance Report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 30 percent of the structures on the nation's highway system are either structurally or functionally deficient.  The American Society of Civil Engineers has reported that the number of deficient bridges declined between 1992 and 2003.

The status report ends by saying, "The nation's bridges are deteriorating with age. At the same time, the amount of traffic on them is increasing putting a greater strain on the existing system. Older structures will require increasing future maintenance to remain functional or will need to be replaced on a systematic basis to maintain the integrity of the Nation's highway system."

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