Local Experts Weigh In On Minnesota Bridge Collapse

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Experts say it's too soon to really know what caused the bridge in Minnesota to fail. The span had been inspected as recently as last year. There were some minor things that needed attention, but no structural problems were noted.

It was a major earthquake that brought down a section of the Bay Bridge and a portion of Interstate 880 18 years ago, but as to what caused Interstate 35 in Minneapolis to collapse, is something that could take months to figure out.

Experts say there are a variety of factors that could have contributed to the collapse, from the resurfacing work that was taking place on the bridge to corrosion. Whatever the reason, the fact that it came down during rush hour was likely no coincidence.

William Ibbs is a professor of civil engineering at U.C. Berkeley.

William Ibbs, Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley Dept. of Engineering: "A weakened bridge combined with just heavy traffic loads could very well have been the reason for the collapse."

The span, which connects downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota, isn't even considered old. It was built in 1967. However, experts say advances in welding and steel have come a long way since then.

Brian McDonald is a structural engineer who specializes in bridge failures.

Brian McDonald, Ph.D., Structural Engineer: "Modern bridges or bridges built since then incorporate details that are not susceptible to that sort of fatigue failure."

As for the rescue effort, no telling how long it will take crews to complete their search.

Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman is an expert in emergency response. He was deployed to New York after 9/11 and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Harold Schapelhouman, Menlo Park Fire Chief: "Hopefully they can get an aerial photograph of what that bridge looks like right now, lay over an alpha numeric grid over the top of it and start to figure out how they're going to do a methodical search, not only of the 50 vehicles, but every nook, cranny, hidden space, subsurface area of that bridge because you never know when you're going to find somebody."

The National Transportation Safety Board will be sending a team of investigators to Minneapolis. They will be doing a full forensic analysis in hopes of pinpointing a cause.

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