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Survivors May Get Steel from MN Bridge

Friday, February 8, 2013

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Some of the nine million pounds of steel from the fallen Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota may be pieced off to survivors of the bridge collapse as a solemn memorial.

Most of the steel wreckage has been sitting untouched since the Aug. 1, 2007, catastrophic bridge failure, waiting to be sold for scrap.

Now that years of litigation have come to an end, and the steel is no longer needed as evidence, a group of 25 to 30 survivors has approached the Minnesota Department of Transportation about obtaining pieces of the bridge.


The 2007 collapse of Minnesota's I-35W bridge killed 13 and injured 145.

Honoring Survivors

The bridge failure brought down about 1,000 feet of the deck truss during rush hour, with about 456 feet of the main span crashing 108 feet into the 15-foot-deep Mississippi River.

A total of 111 vehicles were on the doomed part of the bridge when it collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. Seventeen vehicles were eventually recovered from the river.

MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said the department might be legally obligated to sell the scrap materials and put the money into the state budget.

"We certainly do want to try to honor those requests—however, the material is state property so we need to make sure that we're doing everything according to law and by the book," said Gutknecht.

MnDOT officials have expressed concerns that the bridge pieces could wind up being resold as souvenirs, and they want to make sure people aren't exposed to the lead-based paint used on the bridge.

"There are a lot of little details that need to be worked out before we can actually do this ... We should have a plan pretty soon," Gutknecht said.

Calls to transportation officials about possible plans for the steel were not immediately returned on Thursday (Feb. 7).


Nine million pounds of steel wreckage from the bridge failure could be sold for scrap, but a group of survivors hopes to keep some for personal memorials.

Plans for the Pieces

Survivor Brent Olson has been organizing requests on behalf of others who were on the bridge. Olson told the Star Tribune that he thinks of the accident every day and would like to mount a photo of the bridge onto a flat piece of the steel and hang it on his wall.

"I guess how one person put it: The bridge has taken so much from us ... I want to get a little piece of it back," Olson said.

Olson said that some survivors want larger pieces to put in memorial gardens, and one person mentioned a personal revenge plan that involved piercing a piece of the bridge with bullet holes.

In addition to survivors, the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering is interested in using some of the wreckage for a memorial podium and possibly for rings for graduating students.

Don Weinkauf, dean of the university's School of Engineering, said that incorporating the steel into rings for graduating students being inducted into the Order of Engineering would remind them of their professional responsibilities.

The school would also like to use the steel in a podium from which the students would receive their rings during the ceremony, Weinkauf said.

Wikimedia Commons / Mike Wills

NTSB's investigation traced the collapse to the failure of the bridge's gusset plates.

"I think that this will be a powerful thing for the students to think about when they're accepting their rings," he told the Star Tribune.

"The things that they design and create will touch people's lives, and I think that that's exactly what this would convey."

Catastrophic Design Flaws

National Transportation Safety Board investigators traced the origin of the collapse to failed gusset plates. The NTSB determined that the gusset plates were about half as thick as they should have been, because of a design error from decades earlier.

The NTSB's investigation determined that the failure stemmed from the following:

  • Insufficient bridge design firm quality control procedures for designing bridges;
  • Insufficient federal and state procedures for reviewing and approving bridge design plans and calculations;
  • Lack of guidance for bridge owners with regard to placing construction loads during repair or maintenance;
  • Exclusion of gusset plates in bridge load rating guidance;
  • Lack of inspection guidance for conditions of gusset plate distortion; and
  • Inadequate use of technologies for accurately assessing the condition of gusset plates on deck truss bridges.

Roadway work was underway at the time, and construction equipment and aggregates had been delivered hours earlier in preparation for a concrete pour later that evening.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Steel

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