September 12, 2007
There are certain things that everyone takes for granted. Street lights, sewage systems, and roads in drivable condition. But driving in Minnesota is a different matter. During the winter the roads are slow and dodgy. In the summer, routes are fraught with detours, highways are down to one lane, and the smell of newly laid asphalt overpowers that of freshly cut grass. The Interstate 35W bridge, one of Minnesota’s major throughways, collapsed on Aug. 1 due to what both Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum (D) and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post called a blatant failure in our infrastructure management.
Now, the city has become fragmented. There are ways to physically navigate around where the bridge used to connect the north and south parts of the city of Minneapolis as well as two portions of the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. But it’s difficult to compensate for the loss of faith in the things we used to take for granted.
The bridge collapse has prompted the creation of a new course at the University of Minnesota taught by Pat Nunnally, a research associate in the Landscape Architecture Department, called “The River, the Bridge, the Community: Beyond the Headlines of the I-35W Bridge Collapse.” The course is intended to get students to rethink defining elements of the university campus. “I’m part of a much broader effort to make the campus as a whole aware of the fact that the Mississippi river goes right through the middle of it,” Nunnally said. “The shock of the tragedy will fade and people will replace that with a growing sense of the significance of the river.” Interstate 35W becomes a dead end before a gaping hole. Its presence has a haunting effect on the campus. Driving down University Avenue, it’s difficult not to see the cliff edge of concrete and metal hanging ominously over the wreckage. And with the neighboring 10th Avenue bridge now re-opened, students cross alongside the vacuum of space above the debris will be reminded of this failure routinely.
So what do we do not only with this bridge collapse but with the rest of the nation’s eroding highway system? The collapse of this bridge is a starting point for questioning the rest of our infrastructure that so vitally connects the country.
“Public policy decisions are made based on competing goods,” Nunally says. “You can never have enough or all of the information, so the decision-making is contingent on what you can find out and act on.” Policy-making became muddied, lost in a volley of different versions of similar facts, colored by varying interests and opinions on the matter.