Thursday, August 2, 2007

Don't let this happen again, please.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty addresses the people of Minneapolis. Captured from CBS Minneapolis/St.Paul

A very tragic scene in Minneapolis, MN, yesterday. During the evening rush hour, a major interstate bride crossing the Mississippi River collapsed. Cars crossing the bridge plunged into the river below, and were also trapped by parts of the bridge. The failure killed 4 people so far, injured several more, and at least 20 people are missing.

This had me thinking all of last night if it could happen here (Swift Current and its area has many bridges and overpasses), and found out one did, many, many years ago.

Crossing the Saskatchewan Landing Bridge

More than 60 years ago, the Saskatchewan Landing river crossing (located 50km north of Swift Current) was a ferry, and even at that time when very few people had cars, that was not enough. The Provincial Government (at the time led by Tommy Douglas) decided to make a fixed link bridge to replace the ferry. One year and one million dollars later, a spectacular 8-pier, 9-arch bridge was constructed and opened to traffic. Douglas, who was at the opening, dedicated the bridge for the use "of our children's children"

It only lasted nine months.

In April, 1952, rumour the bridge was on its last days spread, because of a major ice jam upstream on the South Saskatchewan River. Nobody used the bridge, and everybody was told not to use it, but all the neighbours came down to the bridge to see if it would hold up to the massive pressure. As the jam swelled and threatened, police used dynamite to try to break it up. It was to no avail. At 2:00am on Sunday, April 6, 1952, the river literally lifted the bridge off of its piers and carried it away. It is now sitting somewhere in the bottom of Lake Diefenbaker.

Shortly after, the ferry went back into service, but the Government decided almost immediately to start construction on a better bridge. It was finished in July of 1953. It was closed not even a year later, since construction of the Gardiner Dam and the creation of Lake Diefenbaker made a larger bridge necessary. Three ferries and a temporary floating bridge were needed to support all of the traffic, until finally, the new bridge was opened on November 11, 1965. It is still up today.

Well, there was my attempt at A Page of Saskatchewan. The history of the bridge is in more detail here.

That was an example of a bridge collapse that was not in any way a tragedy. Nothing like it was last night, and I honestly believe it could have been prevented. Watching the coverage on CBS Minneapolis, I heard the bridge was constructed in 1967, and the last time it was inspected was in 2003. The engineers said at that time the bridge was not in good condition, but they believed then it was not in immediate danger of collapsing. The bridge was under construction last night, but in my opinion, they shouldn't have allowed traffic on it. Sure Minneapolis is a very large city, in fact, it's two cities, and a closure of a freeway bridge would result in a large amount of traffic on another bridge, but it's better to be safe than sorry. And if it is found in an inspection that something is wrong with a bridge, they shouldn't have waited to fix it, or inspect it again. I am sure the State's transportation authority will learn from this disaster, and I am also confident that, locally, Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation, and my City's Engineering department, are doing the best they can to prevent a tragedy like this from occurring here.

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