It was quiet. Punctual.
The gathering on the sidewalk on Thursday morning was small: a cluster of media, students in sweatshirts on foot. Bleary-eyed bikers perched on pedals and frames as their taillights blinked in unison with those of the adjacent dump trucks at the intersection. As a MN DOT worker clad in neon climbed into his dump truck, a sign above his rig read, “Stay back. Stay alive.”
State troopers removed their cars from a makeshift barricade, and turned their headlights north to the river. Moments later, a simple progression of vehicles rolled down a ramp from University Avenue. The morning was cool, and streaks of dawn were somewhere in time’s impending distance. A slope of tripods dotted the hill toward the interstate; shutters clicked. Camera phones were held in the air.
From the ramp, traffic flowed to form five lanes streaming southbound that were met halfway by others heading opposite. As they passed waving markers lit by LEDs, those in vehicles were suspended on a white concrete cloud above the Mississippi.
And then they had crossed the bridge.
The general stillness had broken by bleats of horns in the moments before—some short blasts, others long and blaring. Helicopters chopped at the air suspending them above the river. A few cheered as if we’d conquered something.
We’d built a bridge in record time. But it was a bridge that required no groundbreaking ceremony because its ground had already been broken. There was no unveiling because the project hadn’t ever had a covering to keep its progression a surprise.
But since its reinception after the I-35W bridge crumpled and fell, passersby have paused on 10th Avenue to gaze over the gap at what was wrecked in the river. First it was gawkers who “came to see for themselves,” and then locals began to watch its progress as workers embarked on a round-the-clock regimen. Ceremonies had surrounded the bridge’s tragedy and anniversary while renewing the strength of the city of Minneapolis. Commemorative artwork had been commissioned and realized in brushstrokes that depicted the “Thirteen Flowers” lost when the first bridge collapsed in a matter of moments.
What is it that draws the city of Minneapolis to this new bridge, and the memory of the other? Bikers on the 10th Avenue Bridge are perpetually stopped in contemplative states along the wired fence that held the new bridge plans. The community had voted on the design of the bridge: its efficient LED lighting system and, sound, protective technologies. Families have crossed the path to take photographs and portraits along each part of the building process. Observing the bridge, and the research surrounding its failure has been the city’s greatest spectator sport for the last year.
We continue to ask ourselves, “How does a bridge fall down?” and “What prevents any other bridge from doing the same?”
The new bridge has superb technology, and was carefully created in spite of 24-hour work and daily glitches. Three hundred twenty-three sensors have been installed in the bridge; some reside inside its concrete. According the Minnesota Public Radio, these will examine changes over time, and measure how much and how quickly the bridge moves as traffic travels across it. Other sensors keep track of temperature and corrosion. MPR continues to note that one of the only other bridges with such technology is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but the sensors on our St. Anthony Falls bridge outnumber the Golden Gate’s by 150 or so. Additionally, the Golden Gate spans 1.7 miles, whereas our bridge is just 504 feet.
The information gathered by these sensors doesn’t have far to travel as specialists at our own university will be examining the data for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Mn DOT will be able to monitor early problems immediately, making the new bridge one of the safest and most closely monitored bridges in the nation.
The bridge was built with a higher strength, higher performance concrete. Its plans say it should last a hundred years. Gusset plates were replaced with steel tendons, making the bridge more human in some way. Its redundancy is sound.
We can tell ourselves the technology will keep us safe. But regardless of these advances, it is because this tragedy happened within such normality that it remains so fervently haunting: a beautiful August day with hints of fall in its air. The end of the workday had come, and many were traveling home with dinner in mind. At the interfaith service at the Basilica of St. Mary on the anniversary of the collapse Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck, President of the Minnesota Council of Churches, spoke to this. “We cross bridges every day,” she said. “And I’m not speaking in metaphor.”
For those in the proximity of this bridge, for those who have heard the sounds of pounding planks and poured concrete for the last year, the neighborhood suddenly seems quiet. The noises of its progression, and fighting traffic on alternative routes have become the background of daily life.
Though traffic remained sparse at 5:20 on Thursday morning, the quiet of a regained normalcy resounds more loudly than cars that cross the sweeping width of a new bridge.