Why the Bridge Collapsed

Rescuers on the I35W Bridge
(Update:  More photos of the crisis in the galleries.)

The drive into work today was surreal.  Hell, the past 24 hours can be described as no less than surreal.  To avoid potential highway congestion, I took the normal side streets from my home to work.  As I passed over interstate 35W on the north, I could se no more than five cars south-bound on the highway beneath.  Others who follow a similar commute described it best.  "The speed limit on the highway today was seventy-five."


 35W Bridge collapse over the Mississippi RiverBy now the world knows that the I35W bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River at 6:05 last evening.  There is no answer as to why.  There may not be one for quite some time.  We have not reached that moment in time where the answer is all important.  We are still digging out the bodies.

The day has been full of conjecture.  Fox news was the first to report that it was an act of terrorism.  In fact, this was the first conclusion they had drawn in order to be credited as being the first to report on it.  The other networks were more conservative and left speculation for the experts.  But we must remember the Fox claims to be "fair and balanced".  That does not necessairly contradict other adjectives that could be used to describe their reporting: alarmist, speculative and irresponsible come to mind.

Monday morning quarterbacking seems to be de rigeur.  I have heard every absurdity from harmonic resonance, overloading of the bridge and damage from construction.  People feel an insatiable need to explain how such a tragedy happened even when their thesis is lacking in foundation.  Perhaps this fills a psychological need to justify the events to themselves to help them cope.  Perhaps it gives them a sense of importance in hope that one day (like Fox News) they will be vindicated and can claim that they were the first to posit such a theory.  Perhaps it is just validation of Andy Worhol's famous statement, "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" and they are just trying to ensure their time in the limelight.

Active ImageWhat I do know is that the construction on the highway did not equate to construction on the bridge.  The roadway was merely being resurfaced.  A bridge can stand alone without a surface.  Any repairs were merely coincidental.  Had the roadway been a requirement for the stability of the bridge, it could have never been constructed in the manner that it was as indicated in the sidebar photo.

Had the collapse been the result of a terrorist bomb, the explosion would have created a wider debris field.  Had a plane hit the bridge in order to destroy it (an actual claim made by one early eye witness), there would have been a report of a missing plane.  Had saboteurs weakened the bridge, they would have been spotted any number of times from the locks, the passing motorists on River Road, or hikers and bikers along the trails beneath the bridge.  Had the bridge been unsound in designed poorly, one could reasonably assume that problems would have presented themselves much earlier in the forty years since the bridge opened.  We simply do not have neough information to make assumptions.

Things simply break.  How many products are returned under warranty because they fail to operate as designed?  This is no different that a product with an accidental defect that went unnoticed until it failed.



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