Repairs continue on the University Bridge in St. Cloud in this photo taken Wednesday, July 25. Local officials say bridge upgrades have progressed steadily in recent years (Jason Wachter)
(ST. CLOUD TIMES) -- Today marks the five-year anniversary of one of the worst manmade disasters in Minnesota history - the collapse of the Interstate Highway 35W bridge in Minneapolis.
On Aug. 1, 2007, under stress from 287 tons of construction material and rush-hour traffic, the bridge's center span shuddered, then collapsed, dragging other spans into the river. Thirteen people were killed, and 145 were injured.
The disaster sparked a nationwide examination of the safety of America's bridges, including more inspections and an increase in funding to repair or replace some of the most critical structures.
In the past five years, state, county and city engineers have made progress on tackling some of the aging or deteriorating bridges in Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties. There are a dozen structurally deficient bridges in the three-county area, and most are scheduled for replacement in the next three to five years, according to state and local engineers.
A bridge is considered structurally deficient if at least one component - the deck, superstructure or substructure - is in poor condition and needs to be scheduled for repair or replacement. It does not necessarily mean a bridge is unsafe, although it's one of the factors used to determine which bridges qualify for federal money.
State and county engineers say the 35W disaster raised awareness of bridge safety, tightened inspection and reporting requirements and made it easier to get state and federal funding to repair or replace aging bridges.
However, a number in the St. Cloud area are nearing the end of their life span of about 70 years.
"Bridges only last for so long," said Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) District 3 Bridge Engineer Jim Hallgren. "And we need to take care of them."
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigated the collapse, said one of the chief lessons of the tragedy is that state transportation officials may not have probed deeply enough into the design details of their bridges.
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