One Bridge Changes Many Lives

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Jun 11, 2008 No Comments ›› admin

June 11, 2008

Last week a woman swung her hammer and it went right through a gusset plate on the Winona Bridge. What happened next changed the lives of thousands of people.

Had she not swung the hammer on that plate, those lives could have been changed in a very different way.

I was sitting on the Winona Bridge not long ago in rush hour traffic. The bridge was completely filled with cars and semis.  All I thought about was the I-35W bridge collapse just up river where 13 people were killed and 145 injured.

Today no one is traveling on the Winona Bridge because it is closed. And many people’s lives have been changed.

More than 1,000 people showed up early Monday morning to take the ferry across the river in both directions according to the Star Tribune.

Minnesota Public Radio quoted Dan Dorgan, the Minnesota State Bridge Engineer, as saying that inspectors found rusted and corroded gusset plates on the approach to the bridge. The gusset plates are the connectors holding the steel beams together. Similar gusset plate problems were found in the collapsed I-35W bridge.

In January, the National Transportation Safety Board issued an alert regarding gusset plates.  The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is conducting inspections on all 25 bridges that use gusset plates to connect steel beams. It was through this work the corroded plates were discovered.

Last Friday, the bridge inspection was completed. MnDOT officials told my office Monday morning they “optimistically” expected to know the results of the inspection analysis by the end of this week.

Meanwhile local people scramble to find another way to get to work and to church, visit the doctor, buy groceries and check on elderly relatives. Local churches were packed this week in Fountain City and Alma as members of Winona parishes stayed home in Wisconsin to worship.

I learned through our church that a couple living in Wisconsin and working in Winona had temporarily traded homes with a couple living in Minnesota and working in Wisconsin. Many neighbors and friends are carpooling to ease the costs of driving more than 70 miles to detour either through La Crosse or through Wabasha, Minnesota.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials are also working to set up detour routes and staff ride and park areas. Some of those areas are overflowing with autos and others require crossing assistance as people go across a state highway to reach the ferry.

The city of Winona has set up the ferry and is charging people $15 a week to ride to work. The cost to the city is estimated to be $85,000 a week. They are hoping the state of Minnesota will help defray costs.

Because the bridge is owned by the State of Minnesota, the decision about when and whether to open it to traffic must be made by the MnDOT. We expect additional information by the end of this week. Estimates for replacement of the bridge run between $175 and $250 million but it was not scheduled to be replaced until 2017. Of course now all that has changed.

Those of us that live and work near the bridge are finding different ways of doing things. People told me Sunday that local businesses in Nelson – near the Wabasha Bridge – have seen an upswing in business.  But business owners near the Winona Bridge saw a precipitous drop in sales.

For all the hardship, lost sales, rearranging of schedules and arranging car pools, local people agree on one thing: “Thank God for the gal who swung that hammer. The lives she and her coworkers saved could have been ours.”

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