A Bridge to Somewhere

On August 1st, 2008, disaster struck the Twin Cities as the Interstate 35W bridge that spans the Mississippi River between Downtown Minneapolis and the north side of the city collapsed during rush hour.  Thirteen people died and 145 were injured.

The aftermath of the Collapse

The aftermath of the Collapse

I did not live in the area at the time, so I can’t quite share the same feelings that must have been shared by everyone in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  I’m sure that most people either used the bridge regularly, or know someone who did, and the thought “That could have been me or someone I love” must have been pervasive.

The effect of the bridge collapse on my life has been much smaller.  With one of the city’s main arteries cut off, the effect on traffic throughout downtown and the surrounding area has been huge.  This is especially pertinent to me, since I live near downtown and have to get to the East Bank every day to get to the University of Minnesota.  Since bicycling is my main mode of transportation, increased traffic is obviously an issue, although the bike lanes have made this fairly manageable.  The other problem is that I have to find a way to get across the river on one of about five bridges, which are of course carrying the load that the interstate bridge used to take.  In addition, the bike trail along the river bank has been cut off where it passes underneath the bridge, further limiting my options.

All this is leading up to say that the new bridge will be open at 5:00 AM on Thursday!

The new 35W Bridge as it neared completion in late August

The new 35W Bridge as it neared completion in late August. You can see Northrop Auditorium on the U of M campus in the background. The physics building is nearby.

This is a big day for the city, as I think it will bring some needed closure to the scars of the bridge collapse.  (Further closure will be sought through a memorial in nearby Gold Medal Park, currently in planning and fundraising stages.)

Also, I am hoping to see relief of congestion downtown, particularly on the 3rd Avenue bridge that I take on most days.  I am also interested to see how much traffic really improves with the bridge.  I’m pretty sure the the traffic I see on 3rd Ave will be alleviated.  Traffic is forced off the interstate at 4th Street SE and University Avenue SE near the campus, and most of this traffic immediately gets onto the 10th Avenue bridge, so I’m also expecting that headache to be gone.  However, I’ve gotten into the habit of attributing all congestion that I see in Minneapolis to the missing bridge.  I’ll be interested to see how traffic across town is affected.

To tie this into physics: I know that I’ve read about traffic models that approximate traffic flow using the physics of gases. I’ll do a little digging tomorrow to see if I can find something interesting to link to.  If anyone has any links or has studied traffic in this way (or other interesting ways), please tell us about it in the comments.


2 Responses to “A Bridge to Somewhere”

  1. 1 wellcaffeinated September 18, 2008 at 11:08 AM

    Here’s a link to a nice post on Backreaction about phantom traffic jams.

  2. 2 Briana Bierschbach September 18, 2008 at 1:13 PM


    My name is Briana Bierschbach, and I am a reporter for the Minnesota Daily. I am the transportation beat reporter at the paper, and actually happen to be working on a story about how the opening of the 35W bridge has affected students and faculty members commutes. I would love to talk to you as you have a lot of interesting things to say about this. If you are willing to be quoted about this for the paper, please contact me.

    You can call me at 612-435-5662, or email me.

    I would really appreciate your help, thanks so much!


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