ASCE Responds to the I-35W Bridge Collapse

In response to the catastrophic I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, ASCE is playing a significant and proactive role in the review and analysis of one of our nation's tragic infrastructure disasters. Shortly after the collapse occurred, ASCE immediately began to provide technical and authoritative information to the media and has developed a dedicated area on the ASCE website to providing further resources and related information. The website will continue to evolve over the coming days and should serve as an excellent resource to keep members up to date and help in answering any general questions that may be received. ASCE members can take pride in knowing that ASCE and the civil engineering profession continue to play such a key role in understanding and responding to natural and man-made disasters and in improving the resilience of our nation’s critical infrastructure.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

I-35W Bridge Collapse Editorials

Here's a collection of editorials by the US press. There appear to be two themes: our nation's infrastructure is decidedly crumbling and our political will to adequately fund the repair and maintenance of that infrastructure is decidedly in question.
Chiacgo Tribune
Pioneer Press (Twin
Popular Mechanics
Rochester, MN Post-Bulletin
Wall Street Journal


Ty said...

The tragic but spectacular collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, this week, is one more piece of evidence of the accelerating general decline of the USA as a nation. The I-35 bridge is just one among over 70,000 bridges nationwide deemed "structurally deficient" by inspecting civil engineers. Many parts of the 74,000-kilometer US national highway system are between 40 and 60 years old, but fixing the problem is another story. Pouring tens of billions of dollars into renewal would mean unpopular tax hikes - notably on fuel. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives much of the nation's infrastructure near-failing grades and estimates that 1.6 trillion dollars over five years are needed to bring it to "a good condition." Several of the San Francisco Bay are bridges are of similar age and condition as the collapsed Minneapolis bridge.

As a society we have made the conscious and deliberate decision to spend our tax dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest 1/2 percent of citizens instead of repairing and maintaining our nationwide infrastructure. We have made this decision in order to pave the way for privatizing our commons, including bridges, highways, as well as national parks, forests, and public lands.

This same theme is reflected by the president's decision to veto the bill to provide health insurance to American children while at the same time continuing to spend $ 12 billion a month on no-bid, cost plus, exclusive contracts to defense contractors for goods and services NOT delivered in 80% of cases. It is reflected, as well, by the continuing relentless effort to privatize our Social Security system by turning it over to Wall Street banking interests who plan to drain the system of its assets, then declare bankruptcy and walk away, just as they have done with 1000s of private pension plans.

The robber baron capitalists who are stealing this nation's wealth with the help of a captive government, both a Republican administration and the Republican Party, and most importantly, a thoroughly pro corporate, anti-labor, anti-consumer Supreme Court.

These interests have been able to succeed on a spectacular scale by taking over and consolidating the mass media, both TV and radio broadcasting and newspaper publishing into the ownership of 5 or 6 corporate conglomerates, thus controlling the information available to the American public, 85% of which gets most or all of its news and information about the world they inhabit from these sources. They have successfully turned American culture into an anti-intellectual celebrity culture which is deeply concerned about the lives of its pop stars and is actively engaged in voting for the latest American Idol while turning its back on participation in the process of governance. To a significant degree, they have "dumbed down" average Americans to shun thinking rationally about their own economic interests in favor of "hot button' issues such as gay marriage and abortion and to foster a distrust and rejection of science in general and evolution specifically in favor of popular mythology like creationism and "The Rapture" which will transport the chosen few instantly to heaven, leaving the rest of us behind on a devastated, doomed planet.
Under the appealing slogan of "leaving no child behind" we have degraded public education by eliminating the teaching of history, social studies, and government (what we used to call "Civics class"), art and music, by refocusing education to preparation for taking a nationwide, one-size-fits-all test, and popular team sports.
With the help of a corp[orate mass media, Madison Avenue has convinced most Americans that government is never the solution but that it is always the problem. That the idea of a "commons" is a quaint, unrealistic anachronism, and that "private enterprise" (dressed up in the trappings of largely nonexistent small businesses, but in reality monopolistic trans-national giant corporations)
is the most efficient means for achieving any and every goal.
While militarily the United States is first in the world as a weapons producer and spends more than all other nations combined, on its military, our difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan attest to the questionable strength and effectiveness of our military force. We also leas the world in the proportion of our citizenry that we have imprisoned. But in other areas of endeavor we are a long way from being "number One." In general health, longevity, and infant mortality we lag behind 36 other nations. In education we lag behind 17 other nations. In industrial output we lag behind at least 3 or 4 other nations if we regard the European Union as one industrial entity. In spite of our delusion of being "USA - Number One," we lag behind a dozen nations in scientific research and technology innovation. In mean income levels we lag behind at least 5 European nations. In general standard of living we lag behind 8 other nations.
In overall wealth, we will soon slide from number 3 to number 4 or 5 position.
The "Great American Century" is behind us us to be sure. Regardless of the dreams of empire still dreamed by members and followers of the Project for a New American century, and the TV inspired delusion of average Americans, the 21st century will witness "The Great American Decline." It didn't have to be that way, but the PNAC dreamers' own foolishness, ignorance, arrogance and hubristic inability to think logically have condemned us all (except for the wealthiest 1 or 2% of us) to this now inevitable decline. The damage that 27 years of anti-government, anti-social, anti-labor and anti-consumer neoconservatism/neoliberalism economic, social and environmental policies have wreaked upon our society, our infrastructure, our economy and our environment is so deep, so extreme that it can never be undone. We are are a decade or more past the "tipping point," the point of no return. From now on, the slide towards degradation and chaos can and will only accelerate.
Please do not think this is an excessively gloomy assessment. There is still time time to slow down this devolutionary trend. If everyone suddenly awakens from their smug, self satisfied stupor, from their delusion that all is well with the world, that we are still "Number One," we could arrest our rush towards chaos. But for that to happen, it will take extraordinary and unprecedented effort from all of you.

Jason said...

Wow that comment was very off topic. News flash ty, Bush and capitalism are not evil incarnate. Go back to your leftist hole and preach to the choir.

Anonymous said...

It would appear form ariel photos that the main span fell slightly U/Stream, and that the approaches-resisting that move-fell slightly
D/S. These would suggest a substrucuture(scour failure w/ pier movement) or a superstructure failure on the D/S facia arch or tie-link failure across a joint near the deck, or possible a combination of both. David H. DeValve, PE.

Robert E. Adamski said...

How many noise barriers have been built to "protect" people who moved next to a highway with funds that could have been used to fix bridges. In Europe gasoline is $6 per gallon with the difference from our $3 being used to fix transit.

Don't forget the "out of sight" infrastructure below ground that delivers our water and removes our sewage.

BTW the latest audit show over 90% of contracted defense services have been delivered.

Andres said...

Re: comment from Annonymous (David DeValve, PE)

I find your thoughts about the collapse interesting. At our office we considered the construction work being performed. From photos, it appeared as though the deck was being replaced (photos depict "new" looking concrete and unstriped lanes adjacent to striped lanes on unimproved deck). Does anyone have thoughts related to the work being performed? Could it have been full deck replacement?

The New York times is reporting that 2" of material was being "added". It seems odd that dead load was being added to a deteriorated structure. If material was being removed, was the construction company storing the material on the bridge. Could the additional dead load trigger the collapse?

We thought to dismiss scour, since it appears from the surveillance video that the beginning of the collapse occurred away from the pier in the water. From photos of the structure, the other pier was on land where scour would not be an issue. We surmised that the pier adjacent to the river moved after the approach span collapsed and exerted a horizontal force on the pier, pushing it towards the water.

Andres M Roda, PE

acremacre said...

I encourage more engineers to offer their insight to prioritizing public infrastructure funding. Currently I am a private consulting civil engineer and serve as a councilmember in City Government. Although it is at times difficult to take time away from my business, I believe it is important service to our civilization. I as an engineer have been received quite well by others serving in local government leadership. This country is starved for engineers in leadership roles that directly set policy, whether local, state, or federal.

Lea said...

Rather than use this event as an editorial springboard, American Public media (which produces several public radio shows such as Marketplace and Weekend America) is looking for the insights of those with first-hand knowledge of public infrastructure to inform their reporting. Please pass this link on.

Eva Lerner-Lam said...

Sam Schwartz wrote a good op-ed piece in today's NY Times:
Catch Me, I’m Falling (

In it, he makes an intriguing suggestion that a federal infrastructure inspector general should have to certify each state’s program with his or her professional engineer’s stamp. (See 2nd to last paragraph of the piece.)

What do you think?

Mike Tikkanen said...

What do bridges, schools, health care, and safe city streets have in common?

Minneapolis City Pages September 5th Economy in Freefall article quoted Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as estimating the additional costs of gas and extra miles due to the bridge collapse at $400,000 per day, or $146,000,000 over the next year.

Any accurate calculation of additional costs to drivers must include at least a fair minimum amount for the 144,000 cars per day that used this bridge each day that now must find other routes.

Forty eight cents per mile is the IRS allowance for automobile deductions and this does not include the headache factor of clogged traffic and longer commutes that I seem to be experiencing.

Assuming an average of ten additional miles for each car each way (some of us take the longer 694/494 route around town (which is depending on east or west between thirteen and eighteen additional miles bypassing the city on freeways, others drive fewer extra miles through downtown city streets or the 280 detour).

Multiplying an average ten miles each way for 144,000 cars per day equals 2.8 million miles per day times the IRS 48 cents equals $1,382,000 per day, or almost four times the governor's estimate.

Hoping that it only takes one year to finish the bridge, multiply 1.382,000 times 365 and it adds to a little over five hundred million dollars in hard costs to drivers for these detours. Eighteen months bridge construction time would equal over seven hundred and fifty million dollars in hard driver costs.

With no extra consideration for the extra ten to twenty minutes at each end of our commute we can honestly call this the hard cost of the bridge collapse.

Add this to the approximately two hundred million dollar estimated cost of a new bridge, and the sure to be substantial lawsuit settlements for wrongful death and injury from the victims of this disaster, and some minimal value for the businesses that are failing because of their new inaccessibility, and a billion dollars becomes a realistic estimate of the total hard costs of not maintaining our bridge.

New York's 20 year veteran bridge engineer Samuel Schwartz (NYT OP-ED 8.13.07) estimated that 178,000 dollars annual maintainance per year per bridge would keep all of his states bridges in pristine condition ("all bridges guaranteed never to collapse", MINE).

Compare 178,000 dollars to the one billion dollars price tag of not maintaining this bridge and you can begin to see the actual cost of our anti tax policymaking that has won the hearts and minds of so many Minnesotans.

It appears to be up to five hundred times more expensive to ignore the advice of qualified people (real engineering experts paid high salaries) than it was to gamble on the small savings to be gained by ignoring their advice.

Even if we had spent $178,000 each year for twenty years, the total is $3,560,000 (996 million dollars less than a billion dollars).

Similarly, in the case of human beings it is much more cost effective to attend to the needs of a child than waiting until disaster strikes.

Trying to resurrect a criminalized juvenile or adult with ten to twenty years of serious mental health problems is extremely difficult. We are housing millions of them in our jail and prison systems (and many millions more are out on parole).

I make a very similar financial calculation for failing to help children in child protection systems to receive the help they need to make it in public schools. Traumatized children cost our community a fortune when we ignore them and wait until they are mentally unstable adults to deal with them.

Experts will tell you that the time to help abused and neglected (traumatized) children is when you first have the opportunity. It is exponentially less expensive than waiting until they hurt someone.

The Minnesota bridge failed many of its safety inspections over the last twenty years. Early and sustained annual maintenance would have been the way to save money, lives, and trauma.

Bridges are designed to a factor of ten times their estimated strength needs. Ask any engineer about the significance of a bridge falling down. The Minneapolis bridge collapse was a monstrous failure.

It is not the engineers that ruined the bridge. It's not the teachers that wrecked the schools, or social workers that are not taking care of children in child protection.

These are the people doing their jobs with the resources and support at their disposal.

The bridge collapse was the direct result of the people ignoring the engineers and the experts that know what was needed for systems and infrastructure to stay in working order.

These are the same policy makers that are responsible for the declining conditions of our schools, transportation, courts, bridges, child protection systems and safe city streets.

Policy makers that point fingers and blame others instead of admitting their own failures and especially those that are not working for long term workable solutions to our infrastructure problems should be tarred and feathered.

Would someone please print a large "YOUR GOVERNMENT AT WORK" sign and post it on the tenth avenue bridge to be seen by the thousands of us poor dumb saps as we drive by the billion dollar fiasco that to this point hasn't been any policymaker's fault?

We are not saving any money by letting bridges fall into the river and at risk children fall into our courts and justice system. It costs exponentially more money to let things disintegrate than it does to take care of them.

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