A bridge to the future

With the I-35W bridge opening in sight, Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Weber reported that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is thinking about what else might change around the Twin Cities.

In particular, MnDOT is mulling whether or not to return I-94 between Highway 280 and downtown Minneapolis to its original configuration. That would mean restoring the shoulders on that stretch of highway, often one of the Twin Cities most congested.

Weber says the collapse added 35,000 cars a day. This is what it looked like about sundown last night.

I94andSeymour.JPG

Far be it for me to judge the relative merit of keeping the change. I’m sure the extra lane relieves some of the clog, although it keeps buses stuck in traffic, because they can’t use the shoulder anymore. But clearly someone thinks there’s something right there, or they wouldn’t be weighing the decision in the first place.

The collapse also prompted some much-needed improvements to the ramps at Larpenteur, Hennepin and Highway 280. And as the bridges in St. Cloud, Winona, Hastings and Stillwater demonstrate (and you can add the Maryland Avenue bridge in St. Paul as of this weekend), we all have a new sensitivity toward infrastructure these days.

But what about the changes that aren’t cast in concrete or rolled into roadways?

We were cutting up my first-grader’s birthday cake at home when someone called my wife and told her about the bridge collapse last year. I was working for the Pioneer Press at the time. I grabbed a camera, a digital audio recorder and jumped on my bike heading for the scene. I knew a car would do me no good.

collapse.jpgI wound up interviewing people that had fallen into the river, the walking wounded, as they came out of the University of Minnesota hospital. I didn’t even bother with a notebook. I taped everything and posted the audio on the paper’s Web site about 10 p.m. that night. National Public Radio picked up the audio and ran it during newsbreaks the morning of Aug. 2.

It wasn’t until months later that I understood it had been the first day of my radio career. Minnesota Public Radio and I finally made the same realization about Thanksgiving.

I don’t have any inside information about the Pioneer Press, but McClatchy Co., former owner of the Star Tribune, and E.W. Scripps, publisher of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, both reported drops in net income of more than 40 percent last week. If newspapers were bridges, it seems they’d all be down to one lane, at best, these days. I’m glad not to be on that road anymore.

Would I be writing Newscut this morning if the I-35W bridge were still standing? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.

As I occasionally travel through Northeast Minneapolis, watching businesses come and go, homes go up for sale and go off the market, I wonder what else happened that you can’t see from the Mississippi River.

Would the Brasa Rotisserie on East Hennepin be there without the increased traffic in the neighborhood? Would I have lower cholesterol as a result? Did the closure of the east end of Broadway reroute the U.S. Mail and UPS trucks fatefully change traffic on Hennepin or Industrial Boulevard?

Who knows what might have changed that night?

Maybe you.

A year later, did the bridge collapse change your life in some way you didn’t realize at the time?

  • bsimon

    Tim- nice start to your newscut portfolio.

  • aanderson

    It was interesting listening to Weber’s report this morning about how the lanes have been narrowed as well as the shoulder used for transport. These new lanes still seem bigger than the ones I experienced while driving through downtown Chicago at night over 10 years ago. With all the simultation tools available today, they should be able to get real drivers to come in and use the equipment to drive on the new design for a road before it is ever built.

    Then the engineers would get a sense for how real drivers use the roads. Hardly anyone I see follows the “rules of the road” as defined by any highway department.

    For example much of the congestion I see today is caused by drivers continually changing lanes in critical locations. Designs should be made to minimize this and other issues at the critical locations and there would be much less congestion.

    At the same time they are studying whether to go down a lane on 94 the should study the causes and effect of having stoplights on 169 starting and 494 and going to the Minnesota River.

    That area feels much more hazardous when I drive it than 94 does with an extra lane.

  • Lily

    A year ago I was volunteering for the week at La Semana (www.lasemana.org), a day camp for kids adopted from Latin America and their families. Because I normally work in downtown Minneapolis and live in Shoreview, I could have been on that bridge on August 1st. Now, a year later I am back volunteering at the same wonderful camp…

    How has life changed? For me, everytime I drive downtown I think about the bridge collapse. I have had to slow down due to a longer and unpredictable commute, and have grieved the loss of neighbors and my own sense of security. That day reinforced how fragile life can be–and is.

    My prayers this week are with the families of those affected by loss of life or injury.