Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Back in Business

The big announcement came today. Little more than a year after it came down, the I-35W bridge that runs in and out of downtown Minneapolis is going back up. When it suddenly collapsed into the Mississippi River on August 1, 2007, killing 13 people, wounding over 100 and cutting off one of the most important freeway routes in the Twin Cities, Minnesotans went to work rescuing survivors, mourning the victims, and cleaning up the mess. Thousands of them also rerouted their commutes. After today's revelation, we now know they'll be able to re-reroute them this coming Thursday.

Unless you live or used to live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, it's difficult to understand the important role that this particular bridge played in the local traffic flow. It used to be the main route that connected Minneapolis to areas north of the city. It also had exits that lead to the campus of the University of Minnesota, a 40,000+ students institution. It offered a quick way to get to the Metrodrome, the Minneapolis stadium that plays home to the Twins, Vikings and Gophers. What's more, it was an important link in the I-35 freeway which runs from the top of Minnesota to the Texas border with Mexico, connecting our country from top to bottom. For 13 months, that particular connection has been missing.

In all the excitement over the rapidity of the reconstruction or the prospect at getting the regular commute back, it's easy to forget that this site is a painful one for many Minnesotans. Losing a loved one, being seriously injured, or even surviving without a scratch but with the memory of plunging along with your car into the Mississippi River when you thought you were on your way home is a life-changing experience. In order to remember the victims, a memorial will be built near the site of the collapse. It will be located in Gold Medal Park where a gathering site developed after the accident. Because construction was taking place on the bridge the day that it fell, fewer lanes than normal were open. This played a role in what many consider the miraculously small death toll of 13. Nevertheless, no one should have to die because of underfunded or faulty infrastructure. I hope that the memorial park will ensure that we never forget the mistakes of the past that led to their deaths. And I hope the new I-35W bridge is here to stay.

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