The 35W River Bridge

I have little to add to the news; by now, the world world knows that the 35W River Bridge collapsed last night.  Ed’s done a good job of covering it – there will be much more to come.

I can add nothing to the facts of this story.  Not yet, anyway.

I was ten miles away, up in Fridley at an event with my son.  We walked out at 7:15, and saw the coverage with a group of other families.  Like all such visceral, physical disasters, it took a moment or two to realize it was real, and it was huge; it took longer to sink in that it was here.

As I said before; my thoughts and prayers to out to everyone involved; those who survived, the families of those who didn’t, and all the people working on the site, the hospitals, and on the investigation today, trying to rescue, recover, heal, plan around, and solve, and help the Metro recover from this catastrophe. 

For those of you from out of town, the importance of this bridge to this metro area can not be overstated.  The Twin Cities are famously dependent on bridges, since the Cities are cut into three distinct regions by the course and confluence of two great rivers, the Mississippi and the Minnesota. 


The Mississippi flows like a big “S” that’s rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise, separating most of Minneapolis from most of Saint Paul.  The Minnesota River, in turn, joins the Mississippi where the two cities come together, by the airport and the Mall of America, dividing most of the booming south suburbs – Burnsville, Shakopee, Mendota Heights and Eagan – separate from the rest of the city. 

So – if you need to go from south to Northeast in the metro, the 35W Bridge was the main link.  And it was heavily used; the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimated 140,000 cars a day used the bridge as of 2002; people commuting from the north-east ‘burbs to jobs downtown or on the Southtown strip (the huge commercial district along 494 from Eden Prairie to the Mall of America).  All the major detours are bad; jogging across the 694 River Bridge to I94 leaves you with the perpetual mess at the Lowrey Tunnel and the 35W Commons; Minnesota 280 (through Roseville and the Midway and thence to I94) isn’t a freeway (although they’re jury-rigging it today), plus I94 through the Midway back to Minneapolis over the I94 River Bridge and the Commons is already a congested nightmare; taking 35E to 94 via downtown Saint Paul is a 10-20 mile detour (and southbound 35E is already horribly congested every morning, and northbound is even worse at night), and leaves one back to the same bottleneck on 94 at the river; for those working south of Minneapolis, taking 35E to 494 is a long detour, and the traffic there is, yep, already kinda bad there. 

I remember talking with someone with knowledge of these kinds of things when I was at KSTP, twenty years ago, back when “terrorism” still killed people in ones and tens and twenties; he said “if you wanted to shut down the Twin Cities, all you’d have to do is take down the 35W and 94 River Bridges – or even make them inoperable.  This city couldn’t function”. 

We’ll see. 


2 thoughts on “The 35W River Bridge

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