Monday, August 6, 2007

When Bridges Fall

I live in Minneapolis, and have crossed the 35W Bridge more times than I can count since moving here in 1975. In fact, my mother and I crossed it on Tuesday night, about 22 hours before it fell. My sister, Vicki, and her two children, Gavan and Sinead, had also crossed it on Tuesday. I found out later, my second cousin, Jeremy and his girlfriend, Kelli, had crossed it about 5 PM, just an hour before it collapsed. They are going to school on the edge of downtown and live about a mile from the bridge. Then, I got an email from a friend who told me he and his wife crossed it on their way home from work at about 5:30. One of their coworkers crossed it at 5:45! That was too close!

I know there are stories like those all over the Twin Cities because it is such a major artery and carries about 140,000 vehicles each day.

I was working a youth program that night with Paul Ramsour, the executive director of a small non-profit group called Elpis Enterprises. We were at a Minneapolis City Park doing one of our birdfeeder workshops when people started walking up to our booth and telling us the 35W bridge had just collapsed over the Minnesota River in Burnsville, a southern suburb.

When we were done with our workshop, Paul had to drive 35W to get to his home, also south of the Minnesota River. As often happens in events like this, initial information is wrong. After several minutes, people started telling us the bridge that fell was the bridge between downtown and the University of Minnesota spanning the Mississippi River.

It came as a bit of good news he would be able to get home. Little did we know the magnitude of the story until we got home and started watching the coverage on television. It's going to be a major story in these parts for years to come.

It's another one of those life-defining events where you remember where you were when you heard some incredible news. It's like for those of us who are old enough to remember where we were when we heard President Kennedy had been shot. Or, most recently, where we were when we first heard about the attacks on 9-11.

Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call to start fixing our infrastructure. I've been reading about the state of the bridges and roads in America today, and it's a sobering fact: we need to speed up the fixing and building of our aging, and crumbling infrastructure.

My prayers go out to the people who were killed and injured, the people still buried in the river, and to their families and friends whose lives will never be the same.

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