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Briefing: building for the future (story on the rebuilt I-35W bridge in Minneapolis for IET's Engineering & Technology)

Briefing: building for the future (story on the rebuilt I-35W bridge in Minneapolis for IET's Engineering & Technology)

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Published by Laurie Wiegler
Briefing: building for the future
Published on 3 September 2008

By Laurie Wiegler

E&T looks at why it took a tragedy to build a better bridge for Minneapolis. It is more than a year since the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 1 August 2007. The disaster left 13 people dead and over 100 injured. Now the city is focusing on the imminent opening of a swanky $235m replacement, to be called the St Anthony Falls Bridge. But even now the official cause or causes of th
Briefing: building for the future
Published on 3 September 2008

By Laurie Wiegler

E&T looks at why it took a tragedy to build a better bridge for Minneapolis. It is more than a year since the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 1 August 2007. The disaster left 13 people dead and over 100 injured. Now the city is focusing on the imminent opening of a swanky $235m replacement, to be called the St Anthony Falls Bridge. But even now the official cause or causes of th

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Published by: Laurie Wiegler on Dec 07, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/29/2012

 
 
Briefing: building for the future
Published on 3 September 2008
By Laurie Wiegler 
 
E&T 
looks at why it took a tragedy to build a better bridge for Minneapolis.It is more than a year since the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 1 August 2007. The disaster left13 people dead and over 100 injured. Now the city is focusing on the imminent opening of a swanky $235m replacement, to be calledthe St Anthony Falls Bridge.But even now the official cause or causes of the collapse are not known – at least publicly. That won’t occur until mid-November,when the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) releases its ruling.Meanwhile, the construction team, a joint venture of Colorado-based Flatiron and Seattle’s Manson, has worked tirelessly since lastOctober on the new bridge, designed by Figg Bridge Engineers of Tallahassee, Florida.Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) opted for a design-build procurement process rather than a conventionaldesign-bid-build. In that way, designers and contractors come together early on, giving more scope for innovation and flexibility indesign, materials and construction methods. Moreover, construction can start before the detail design is finished, shortening the timeto completion.Figg’s design manager, Alan Phipps, says that all the technical drawings were developed in computer-assisted design systems whereembedded items such as ducts and reinforcing were modelled. The resulting 3D drawings could be manipulated to view from anyangle and to perform “virtual construction” electronically, says Phipps.Design features also include a sensor and monitoring system, which was key in helping build the bridge and will be used for itslong-term management.Dan Dorgan, state bridge engineer for MNDOT, explains: “Imagine starting on both sides of the river and then attaching pieces so thatthey meet in the middle.” Models were also employed to predict construction effects in the face of Minnesota’s “tremendous range intemperature.”Construction has been progressing far ahead of schedule, with a $27m financial incentive for the contractors hanging in the balance.At the time of writing, the MNDOT website promises an opening date “between the middle of September and the middle of October,2008.” As recently as mid-June the same site gave “by 24 December 2008” as the deadline.This accelerated pace has garnered widespread attention from as far away as San Francisco and even Japan, as engineers pour into see the bridge erected so quickly – even in the dead of a Minnesota winter.The loss of I-35W is costing about $400,000 per day in lost revenue, increased commuter expenses and burden on surroundingroads, says Flatiron’s public information officer on the project, Amy Barrett. An estimated 140,000 vehicles a day have had to findalternative routes, she claims.But as the bridge goes up at what Figg calls an “aggressive” pace, the seemingly sluggish schedule of releasing the NTSB reportfrustrates many. Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, who is proud of the way his community and rescue teams responded the day of thedisaster, is less kind towards state officials. “I am extremely disappointed that a year later we still don’t know why a major freewaystructure in the centre of an American city collapsed in rush hour. That’s shocking to me,” he told
E&T 
.Rybak, a Democrat, went on to blame the Republican governor of the state, Tim Pawlenty, for impeding progress. Pawlentyspokesman Brian McClung responded by accusing the mayor of simply trying to further a political agenda by politicising the disaster,asserting that the governor had funnelled $3bn into major highway projects in the state just in his first term.Politics aside, NTSB issued a preliminary report in January that noted a design flaw in the original plans, drawn in the late 1960s bythe collapsed bridge’s contractor, now-defunct Sverdrup and Parcel, which was bought by Jacobs Engineering. (Called for comment,St Louis-based Jacobs Engineering never responded to
E&T.
)

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