Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Transportation Case Study Part 1

The following set of posts relates to a class project for Public Policy 715.

The Minnesota bridge collapse that is the topic of this case study occurred on August 1st, 2007, and the first thing to do is acquaint ourselves with the details of the incident as if it just happened. The story of the bridge collapse made the front page of every newspaper in America but it’s best to go to the local newspaper to see the magnitude and gravity of the event for a local.

Four of the twenty-one articles published in the August 2nd issue of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the most widely circulated paper in the Twin Cities area are reprinted here. The first is a nuts-and-bolts report with facts highlighted. The second is one that shows the true emotional magnitude of the event to the local Minneapolis community, even going so far as to compare the event to New York’s 9/11. Perhaps another way to put the comparison in context is that as unfair as it is, a disaster that takes place in New York like 9/11 has a far better chance of reaching out to the public because it takes place in the nation’s media capital. The third is a short chronology to help give a better picture. The fourth is an alternate route guide in which we can note how well the city prepared alternate transportation routes and we can look at the system from that perspective.

Paper: Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Date: 7/2/2007

Writer: Paul Levy

Page: 1A


Crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic, I-35W bridge plunged into the Mississippi River during rush hour.; At least nine people died and 20 were missing, with countless hurt. Dozens of vehicles dropped into the water.; A 2005 assessment called the 40-year-old span `structurally deficient,' and it was a candidate for replacement.; To the ballgame, on the bus, drivers plunged into terror.

An ordinary evening rush hour turned horrific Wednesday when the Interstate 35W bridge that spans the Mississippi River in Minneapolis suddenly collapsed. Dozens of vehicles plunged to the water and roadways below, leaving scores of dazed commuters scrambling for their lives.

Nine people were confirmed dead, 60 were taken to hospitals and 20 people were still missing late Wednesday night. Authorities said they expected the death toll to rise.

Between 50 and 60 vehicles were on the bridge when it went down shortly after 6 p.m., authorities said. Legions of rescue workers and volunteers swarmed to the scene and spent hours sifting through the wreckage in a frantic search for survivors.

"This is a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.

By late in the evening, officials said efforts at the Mississippi had switched from rescue to recovery.

Jay Danz, 45, of St. Paul, was on his way to the Metrodome to watch the Twins play Kansas City and had driven under W. River Parkway, beneath the interstate bridge, seconds before it fell.

"I heard it creaking and making all sorts of noises it shouldn't make," Danz said. "And then the bridge just started to fall apart."

In addition to the cars that went into the water, a school bus carrying about 60 Minneapolis children fell from the bridge, landing on all four of its tires and missing the water as it came to rest near the parkway.

Several of the children and at least two adults were treated for injuries after the group escaped through the back door of the bus.

"Some kids had blood on their faces, but thank God everybody could move," Danz said.

The cause of the collapse wasn't known in the hours afterward. It's too soon to know what happened, said Catherine E. Wolfgram French, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota.

"Things can happen with temperature, and with construction, or a lot of other confounding factors," French said.

This was a 40-year-old truss bridge, and French did say that some early truss bridges don't have as many structural redundancies - backups to carry the loads - as is now considered desirable.

Another engineer, Michael Ramerth, a principal at MBJ Consulting Structural Engineers in Minneapolis, said in the search for answers "I would start at the foundations."

On a typical weekday, more than 100,000 cars use the bridge.

Berndt Toivonen, 51, of Minneapolis, was on his way home from a painting job when the bridge collapsed beneath his car.

"The bridge started to buckle," Toivonen said. "It went up and came down. I thought I was going to die."

Bumper-to-bumper traffic

What people in the area of the collapse experienced or saw at about 6:05 p.m. unfolded as motorists crawled bumper to bumper across I-35W toward the end of rush hour.

Those on the bridge felt buckling and swaying and heard a crunching.

Then came the unthinkable: The 40-year-old bridge collapsed, dumping vehicles into the water and onto land below. That was followed by scenes of frantic, bloodied motorists and rescuers who converged on the scene.

Many vehicles, including at least one semitrailer, were on fire. People were reported to be floundering in the river. Rescuers rushed to help people escape cars trapped in the V-shaped hollow where the bridge had caved in.

The school bus that fell was, returning from a day-camp swimming trip sponsored by a Waite House summer program.

"We collapsed," said Ryan Watkins, one of the children.

Crumpled wreckage lay on the east bank of the river, and a huge section of concrete roadway lay on the west bank. Down below in the river gorge, rescue workers scrambled to help people get out of the water.

Fire and black smoke rose from the wreckage.

Memorial Blood Centers and the American Red Cross put out immediate calls for blood donors. A center for families of those who are missing was set up at the Holiday Inn Metrodome.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff issued a statement Wednesday night saying there was no indication of terrorism.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters was scheduled to fly to the Twin Cities early this morning, along with Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar.

Workers on the bridge

About 20 construction workers employed by Progressive Contractors Inc. were about to begin night shift work on the bridge when it collapsed, company officials said.

The company has been working on a repair project for about six weeks, said Mike McGray, president of the company. Progressive is based in St. Michael, Minn., and is one of the state's major road and bridge repair contractors.

In 1990 a construction worker fell 90 feet to his death when a concrete arch span on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River. In 1960 a bridge over the Minnesota River at Hwy. 41 in Chaska collapsed during construction. No one was killed in that incident.

Construction workers had been repairing the bridge's surface as part of improvements along that stretch of the interstate. There were a large number of construction workers who went into the water, said Maj. Michael Asleson of the Minnesota State Patrol.

Most of the injured were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center.

Nine people were taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and five others arrived by ambulance at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

A staging area for the injured was set up near the Stone Arch Bridge.

Marcelo Cruz, 26, of Crystal, who has used a wheelchair since being paralyzed in a shooting in South Carolina several years ago, was driving his van across the bridge toward downtown when he felt it began to wave up and down.

He steered into the concrete railing to stop himself from driving into the river, and saw many cars on the bridge fall into the water.

His van came to rest steeply inclined toward the river and several onlookers ran and told him to get out. He said he needed help and the onlookers carried him out of his van in his wheelchair to safety on the riverbank.

"I'm lucky to be alive," he said over and over again.

Peter Siddons, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, was heading north over the bridge toward his home to White Bear Lake when he heard "crunching."

"I saw this rolling of the bridge," he said. "It kept collapsing, down, down, down until it got to me."

Siddons' car dropped with the bridge, and its nose rolled into the car in front of him and stopped.

He got out of his car, jumped over the crevice between the highway lanes and crawled up the steeply tilted section of bridge to land, where he jumped to the ground.

"I thought I was dead," he said. "Honestly, I honestly did. I thought it was over."

Ramon Houge of St. Paul was on his way home from work and was on the bridge when he heard a rumbling noise and cars in front of him began to go down.

He said cars that could backed up, turned around and drove toward safety.

Baseball game added to congestion

Danz said there were cars behind him on W. River Parkway, but he didn't think any of them were under the bridge when it fell.

John Joachim of Taylors Falls, Minn., took I-35W to the Twins game and said traffic suddenly "slammed to a stop" as he neared University Avenue.

"I didn't know what was going on but a huge cloud of dust rose in front of us," he said.

After the game, traffic were being rerouted away from the collapse, routes that also were being used by theater patrons leaving the Guthrie.

This afternoon's Twins game has been postponed, along with scheduled groundbreaking ceremonies for the new baseball park that had been scheduled for this evening.

`Five feet from the edge'

Louis Rogers, 28, of Roseville was driving home from work listening to music in his Chevy Blazer when the bridge gave way just feet in front of him.

"It just disappeared; it made no sound whatsoever," he said. "It was pretty much like a thud, not too loud of a thud. The next thing I know, cars were dropping and there was smoke. My car was no more than five feet from the edge."

Rogers tried to help some of the people in cars that had fallen into the river and stopped on the bridge.

"I saw a lady in a car and I screamed, but I got no response," he said. "I grabbed my bag and started signaling cars to get out of there."

Ryan Murphey, 30, of Minneapolis, went to the scene to see if he could help out.

"It looked like a terrorist attack, a complete catastrophe," Murphey said. "But everyone there was very calm and organized."

He helped remove two victims from the east side of the bridge on stretchers, including a woman in her late 50s with a "bloody face."

The Twins decided to play Wednesday night's game, but only after the public address announcer alerted the crowd at 7:08 p.m. of the bridge's collapse. A moment of prayer followed. It was then announced that the game would go on so emergency crews could perform their duties without the added pressure of having 20,000 to 25,000 people scrambling in swarms from the Dome area.

Area law enforcement, including the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, had launched at least three boats to help with the rescues.

"Unbelievable," said Audrey Glassman of Minneapolis, who left her work shift at nearby Spoonriver restaurant to survey the scene. "You'll never cross a bridge again without thinking about this."

Staff writers Curt Brown, Tim Campbell, Joe Christensen, Terry Collins, H.J. Cummins, Kevin Duchschere, Tom Ford, Kevin Giles, Pat Lopez, Maura Lerner, Bill McAuliffe, Pamela Miller, Claude Peck, Joy Powell, James Shiffer, Jim Foti and Doug Tice contributed to this story, which was written by Paul Levy.

Memorial Blood Centers and the American Red Cross put out immediate calls for blood donors on Wednesday night. Within an hour of the bridge collapse, blood banks had shipped extra blood supplies to Hennepin County Medical Center and North Memorial Medical Center to help care for the injured. To donate blood, call the Red Cross at 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or Memorial Blood Centers at 1-888-GIVE-BLD.

Paper: Minneapolis Star Tribune

Date: August 2, 2007 Thursday
Page: 16A

Byline: Unnamed

Headline: A `castrophe of historic proportions'; A bridge collapses;
a community responds.

Text: It will be some time before the losses from Wednesday's disaster are counted. What we can see now is a moment of crisis in the life of our city and state. It is a cliche because it is true: This moment we will remember for the rest of our lives. As Gov. Tim Pawlenty described it, it was "a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota."

Television anchors and radio reporters tried to avoid comparisons to 9/11, but there was no use. The collapse of the Interstate Hwy. 35W bridge over the Mississippi - as rush-hour took traffic out of downtown and the Twins game brought traffic in - inspired the same kind of open-mouthed horror that showed on the faces of New Yorkers that day. And though authorities were quick to discount any suggestion of terrorist involvement, the imagination was not so quick. As with the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, a catastrophe is first assumed to be malevolent. Our world is no longer allowed to view disasters as simple accidents, at least at first.

But then a community in shock came together. The call went out for blood donations, and the response is sure to be strong. Authorities asked area residents to avoid travel and cell-phone use. As TV screens showed video of rescue efforts in progress, rescuers showed a heroism that may be a day's work for them, but is amazing to us. Medical teams responded expertly. Members of Congress issued statements. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Police Chief Tim Dolan and Pawlenty spoke with authority on television. Text on the screen labeled Pawlenty as "R-Minnesota." On this night, both identifiers were unnecessary.

There will be more for everyone to do. For now, none of us can know with certainty that we did not lose friends yesterday. To those who are mourning a loss, the community will show support and solidarity.

Some in the news business had been complaining lately about the lack of news. They spoke of the dog days. Yesterday we learned once more that everything can change in an instant, and that to lament a slow news day is a sin.

Paper: Minneapolis Star Tribune

Date: 7/2/2007

Section: 15A

Text: 35W Bridge Collapse; Snapshot of a disaster

Shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. The steel-arched bridge was built in 1967. It was known for its 458-foot central span. Here is a look at the disaster and the rescue efforts.

1. Bridge work, part of a summer-long Stinson Blvd. to downtown Minneapolis resurfacing project, is underway. Construction vehicles line the bridge.

2. Lane closures in each direction force bumper-to-bumper traffic to about 10 miles per hour.

3. About 6:05 p.m., the bridge's center span directly over the river collapses.

4. Both ends, no longer connected to the center span, tip away from the river, causing secondary sections to collapse in sequence.

5. Dozens of vehicles fall into the river or are crushed between bridge sections. About 50 children are evacuated from a stranded school bus. At about 6:20 p.m., a semitrailer truck and later a pickup truck ignite.

6. Triage staging areas are set up at both ends of the bridge. Blood banks call for donations. Regional hospitals go on orange alert. The nearby Stone Arch pedestrian bridge is used by emergency vehicles. Water rescue boats, hundreds of paramedics and 25 emergency doctors arrive on the scene.

Source: Star Tribune reporting; news reports; photo by Pictometry International

Paper: Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Date: 7/2/2007

Byline: Laurie Blake, Staff Writer

Page: 13A

Headline: I-35W Bridge Collapse; A TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE; Solutions to help your commute
The missing piece of Interstate Hwy. 35W will force southbound commuters and bus riders from the northeast suburbs to take alternate routes into Minneapolis indefinitely. More than 100,000 vehicles a day typically used the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River.

Suggested routes:

The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced early Thursday that Hwy. 280 will be the primary route to replace the closed section of 35W. Hwy. 280 will be converted to a temporary freeway with no stoplights, meaning access to and from Broadway Av. and County Road B will be closed.

Traffic heading toward downtown Minneapolis on I-35W from the north will be required to exit at Stinson Boulevard. I-35W traffic heading toward downtown from the south, meanwhile, will be required to exit at the ramp to I-94 eastbound.

Another option: AAA Minneapolis suggests that drivers coming from the north and northeast suburbs take Interstate 694 to eastbound I-94 into Minneapolis.

Expanded bus service:

Metro Transit announced that it would add 25 extra buses from 6 to 9 a.m. from north metro park-and-ride locations to downtown Minneapolis starting today.

Commuters can catch these buses at the park-and-ride lots at:

- Foley Boulevard in Coon Rapids (between Coon Rapids Boulevard and East River Road near Hwy. 610), served by Routes 850 and 852.

- Maplewood Mall, near Beam and Southlawn Avenues, served by Route 270.

- Northtown Shopping Center in Blaine, served by Routes 824, 852, 854.

- 63rd Avenue at County Road 81 (Bottineau Boulevard) in Brooklyn Center, served by Routes 758 and 767.

- Rosedale Shopping Center in Roseville, served by Route 260.

- Roseville City Hall at County Road C and Civic Center Drive.

- Grace Lutheran Church at Hamline Avenue at County Road B2, served by Route 261.

At these locations, Metro Transit staff will be available to assist new riders. Additional service will also be added in the afternoon.

For more information:

- Check the agency's website at metrotransit.org or call 612-373-3333 from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

- The city of Minneapolis will also offer route information on the city's website at ci.Minneapolis.mn.us.