I-35W bridge over Mississippi River collapsed!

7 dead, 60 injured (as of 1am, Aug 2)

I-35W bridge
I-35W bridge
tangled roadwayAt 6:05 pm, during peak traffic, the 35-W bridge over the Mississippi river collapsed. All eight lanes, all the way across, just dropped straight down into the river along with more than 50 cars, trucks, and even a school bus. How could this happen? Here is what I have found so far.

The I -35W bridge.

What does it look like? How is it made? It was a steel arch deck truss bridge. Its longest span stretched 458 feet between supports. It was built in 1967. (Link to photos and more data about the I-35W bridge.)

What might have gone wrong?

"The state, whoever did the inspection, which was likely to be MnDOT, noticed and observed cracking in the structural steel members, the main girders that hold the bridge up in the air. What it means is that the bridge is no longer going to stay stable," Galarn said.

Link to early video with a safty engineer about what might have went wrong.

How safe are other bridges?

Transportation Commissioner Len Levine who served under Governor Rudy Perpich (said) "between 40 and 50 percent of the 20,000 bridges in Minnesota are deficient in some way."

What is going to happen to traffic?

There will be added bus services from North metro area.
Map of detour routes.(pdf)

Where are photos of this disaster?

KSTP has lots of photos and updates.
Detroit Free Press had 25 photos.
34 photos on Flickr by blogger s4xton Read his story here.

Please use our comments to add updates, photo links, or thoughts.

I could not sleep so I started this after midnight. This story will keep growing so stay tuned and share what you know.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

A video of the I-35W bridge coming down is on CNN. has a wiki where people are sharing information and photo links about the I-35W bridge collapse. Also, here is a link to a Google map image of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Wikipedia has a page on the "I-35W & Mississippi River Bridge" that should point to up-to-date information. Wikis are web pages that anyone can add to or change. The idea is that thousands of people can result in the best, most correct data available. They can become a battle ground, though, on hot topics like religion or politics.
If you want to read what hundreds of people are saying in comments you can read forums like:

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 7:33am
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

Someone put up another version the the bridge collapse video on You Tube.

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 11:52am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i feel so bad for all tose people

posted on Sun, 10/05/2008 - 12:27pm
Joe's picture
Joe says:

The link about the 35 W bridge in ARTifactor's post has this to say about the bridge:

A University of Minnesota Civil Engineer in a report to MN-DOT recently noted that this bridge is considered to be a non-redundant structure. That is, if any one member fails, the entire bridge can collapse. A key factor is that there are only four pylons holding up the arch. Any damage to any one pylon would be catastropic. The textbook example of a non-redundant bridge is the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River. It failed shortly before Christmas in 1967 resulting in 46 deaths. A single piece of hardware failed due to a tiny manufacturing defect. But that piece was non-redundant, and the entire bridge collapsed into the icy river. Today, bridge engineers design bridges so that any single piece of the bridge can fail without causing the entire bridge to collapse. It is tragic that the I-35W bridge was built a few years too early to benefit from that lesson.

When you watch video from the CNN link above it does appear to go all at once.

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 7:48am
natalie's picture
natalie says:

this is sad.

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 11:27am
Maki's picture
Maki says:

This is a very sad thing that happened. My dad's truck broke down a bolck or two away from the scene. He could have been on it!!!!

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 12:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

my mom left work early that day but could've been on that bridge at the moment it collapsed

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 3:08pm
Sivens's picture
Sivens says:

The video of the collapse as it happened is very dramatic and revealing. The whole center section appeared to disconnect and drop straight down. Experts have discounted the idea of a terrorist attack, but it sure looked like a demolition project. Some people may have survived the fall simply because it dropped straight down.

Here's a thought I posted on one of the other Twin City blogs...

I think the U of M Engineering School should model the bridge and see if a jackhammer in the middle could set up strong enough vibrations to travel to the ends of the bridge and reflect back. If so, sound waves could have resonated in a harmonic pattern and amplified to the point where rivets popped. Normal traffic generates "noise" vibrations that tend to cancel or dissipate, but the steady repetition of a jackhammer might produce a wave pattern that builds on itself. The bridge appeared symmetrical in the pictures I saw of it and steel is a great conductor of vibrations. In 1940, the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapsed due to harmonic vibrations caused by wind, so the concept isn't as far fetched as it might seem. A jackhammer doesn't produce a lot of energy, but maybe a small amount is enough if applied in the right (wrong?) way.

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 4:14pm
Clement's picture
Clement says:

Jackhammer theory! Thats a very intresting point! Sometimes when i walk over pedistrian bridges, i bounce up and down as i step. If I time it right, the whole bridge starts to bounce with me. Its a unusual feeling to cause the walkway to vibrate so much just by walking and bouncing around. If you dont believe it, try it on this bridge right here.


posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 4:30pm
bryan kennedy's picture

I actually think this is a reasonable theory. The Millennium Bridge in London had to be closed when it first opened because that people walking across the bridge ended up walking in time with each other enough to create a resonant pattern that caused the whole bridge to shake and wobble. It had to be retrofitted with additional dampers to prevent the wobble.

This website from the University of the Wisconsin talks about how soldiers purposefully break cadence (the timed pattern of marching in unison) when crossing bridges to prevent possibly causing the bridge to be damaged or collapse.

Small things can build and build in the world of physics.

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 4:45pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Watch Mythbusters--its been disproven.

Being in the construction industry, specifically, an ironworker, I will say, what I've said since 8-1-07 @ 7pm. This bridge failed simply from stress, fatigue, and the simple fact of where we live (road salt from winter deicing). Throw in the fact, that there is NO redundancy, and it was a timebomb waiting to go off.

The scary part is, for 13 years, I have heard from the union, at all levels, that the nations bridges are/will be, in need of major repairs, and replacement.

Think about that, the next time you cross that bridge, that we all take for granted, every day of our lives.

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 5:20pm
bryan kennedy's picture

OK while I am a HUGE Mythbusters fan I wouldn't want to quote them as a definitive source of science research. The testing the do isn't exactly always "scientific."

Don't get me wrong you might be totally right that the major reason that the bridge fell was stress, fatigue, and lack of redundancy.

But I do want to make clear that people walking over bridges can set up resonant vibrations that can cause stress and large force on the bridge. This is exactly what was disturbing the Millennium Bridge. You can learn more about what was affecting the MIllennium Bridge from this detailed description of the research reports that followed the opening of the bridge. Essentially they found that when large numbers of people are walking across a bridge a side to side sway can develop which actually encourages people to walk in time to the vibration. This in turn increases the vibration even further in a feedback loop.

This doesn't directly relate to the 35W bridge collapse since it isn't a pedestrian bridge. However, it seems that other resonant vibrations like engines, traffic movements, and jack hammers could plausibly have affected the 35W bridge.

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 9:35am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Many people used the 35 w bridge andthe sad partof all this is that it was in the middle of rush hour and many life could of bee taken and they don't even know if thereare people in the water or not.i herd that 6 people died so far on aug.1st.well if you have any more info please let me know:)

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 11:27am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

my dad was on the bridge

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 2:24pm
meghan's picture
meghan says:

i think that is teribel

i am so sad

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 12:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Yeah, sure, mythbusters isn't pure scientific research...but this is a common sense thing, something you must be lacking. A single jackhammer isn't gonna do anything. 20 jackhammers won't do anything. These bridges aren't made of matchsticks.

I agree with you completely in one aspect. At the 100 year anniversary, the Golden Gate bridge was affected by the amount of people on the bridge. I remember something about it going into negative camber. But trust me, this bridge was not affected by this.

When the results come out, I'll make sure to visit your little blog, and wait patiently for you to eat crow.

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 2:31pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Sorry if my comments came across as argumentative but your tone here is a little frustrating. I don't think anyone is stating without question that vibrations were the cause of this sad event...we are all just speculating as to possible causes. As to "eating crow", looking at issues with a scientific perspective always implies that you should be willing to be wrong in the face of good evidence. One of the only ways that scientific understanding moves forward is by ideas constantly being disproved. This is a positive process that I don't think should be cast in a negative light.

Oh and thanks for that perspective on the Goldent Gate bridge. I think you mean the 50th anniversary ; ) The Golden Gate bridge was built in 1937. But yes, for the event they shut down the highway to car traffic and let around 300,000 people pack the whole bridge walking back and forth across the span. The weight of all those people was much larger than its normal load and created a visible flattening of the normally arched roadway. Here is one picture of the bridge with a personal account.

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 2:58pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this is so sad

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 3:15pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The bridge failure is truly tragic. But, as much as possible should be learned from the investigation.
I am a bridge Engineer, have worked primarily in bridge maintenance and construction. I have some thoughts on what caused the bridge collapse. The main span is a continuous span over the two main piers, so that the bottom chords adjacent to those piers are in compression, while the central portion of the main span over the river, from two inflection points will have the bottom chord in tension. The left bank (North) pier is tipped, so that the top of the pier is leaning to the South. This is some indication of scour beneath the bottom of the pier foundation. Some further indication of ongoing scour is the location of this same pier, it's South face is clearly in the river flow. The wikipedia description states that the bridge was originally constructed with both piers on the river banks, so that river flow and navigation would not be affected. If that is true, then the left river bank has eroded Northward since 1967 (year of construction). Does anybody have any evidence that this kind of erosion has occurred over time? The 2006 MnDOT inspection report notes that a 2004 underwater inspection did not reveal any problems, however one of the problems with riverbed scour is that scour holes can be quickly filled, particularly if the there is ample sediment transport, leading to a live-bed scour situation. Is there a lot of sediment in the Mississippi at this point, or does the upstream control structure/dam trap much of the sediment?
If the North pier tipped prior to the collapse, then additional compressive loadings would be placed upon the bottom chord of the central, or river span. With sufficiently high additional loading, then these relatively slender elements could then buckle elastically. Loads in the corresponding chord elements adjacent to the right bank, or South pier would be identical. This failure mode could explain the apparent failure near both pier locations at nearly the same instant, shown on the security camera video first posted on CNN.

I will freely admit that there are alternative explanations; the tipped North pier could have been a result of the bridge collapse, for example. Thermal expansion, and evidence of some problems with expansion bearings could have played a role. Any thoughts? Would truly appreciate contrary opinions.

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 6:25pm
Ron's picture
Ron says:

I would like to see a study made of what would happen to the Bridge if the following acured;
1, the roller bearings became stuck at a temp of 35 deg F
2. roller bearings became unstuck at a temp of 95 deg F

From URS Bridge 9340 Study pages 2-13 & 14

"There is enough frictional resistance due to corrosion and debris to keepthe bearing from moving untill there is enough thermal force built up in the system to cause a drastic and quick movement of the bearing to relieve the force."

I believe this one item could cause the bridge to collapse.

posted on Tue, 08/07/2007 - 11:34pm
Chach's picture
Chach says:

I heard a disturbing figure on the news -- 25% of our bridges may need attention.

We have so many highways built in the "great age of the freeway." This makes me think about how our nation has grown so quickly, inventing new ways of getting around. Every new technology creates long-term maintenance issues - which we might under-appreciate, having a (generally) weak sense of the future and longevity. I think about safety inspections, and how easy it is to just not see problems because our brains have difficulty attending to problems that slowly unfold. Perhaps that makes it is easier to dismiss and underfund proper safety measures since it may seem like "nothing is happening?"
And then, I think about how, by creating more and more innovations, we expect that our children will be able to comprehend our designs. Sometimes we do understand -- but think about all of the forces & history at work around you right now -- do you understand why your ceiling isn't caving in right now? Or, why the gas in your gas stove doesn't cause routine catastrophe?
Sometimes I feel like my generation (I'm 32) only has a thin understanding of the built world. Maybe that is more because I don't know many people who do a lot of large-scale building - but I have a feeling there are some other reasons for that. What do you think?

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 6:47pm
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says: just posted an update and overview of the bridge collapse.

posted on Sat, 08/04/2007 - 8:38am
Jim's picture
Jim says:

I have alweays subscribed to the idea that the most likely explanation for something is usually going to be the simplest one, and in this instance it is as follows:

The collapse of the bridge was caused by a structural failure of a load-bearing member - that is obvious.

In looking at the video of the bridge collapse I believe that what they will find is that the failure occured first at an expansion bearing located on the north pier of the bridge, and that caused the chord to give way bringing the whole mess down.

Further investigation is likely to indicate that a combination of factors caused the failure, and those will be as follows: poor design, poor quality materials, 8 lanes on a bridge built for 6, lack of proper maintenance, and the removal of some of the decking meaning that the rigidity of the sructure was compromised.

I do not believe that in the final analysis the explanation for the 35W bridge collapse will be any more comlicated than what I outlined above.

posted on Mon, 08/06/2007 - 9:52am
ChrisH's picture
ChrisH says:

You guessed it... From CNN: "Construction crews resurfacing the Interstate 35W bridge reported the structure began to wobble as they removed pavement from it, the severity of the wobble increasing as they took up more concrete."

posted on Mon, 08/06/2007 - 3:24pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I wonder if the discussion on this failure will remain open or will the lawyers close in on it to put a gag in it. I Noticed that the collapse of the airport in Paris, France was open for about 2 weeks then there was no more new reporting relating to its investigation. The collapsed terrace in St. Louis a few years back was also silenced---an acauaintance of mine was on the investigating committee and said he was sworn to secrecy about details of its failure, most likely due to liabilities.He could not say why.

Several potential explanations have been published unofficially but little or no commentary has been heard from the on scene inspection personnel walking around the wreckage after the fact. To me it would be interesting to see/hear their observations. I am left with the possible conclusion there more than one of the described phenomena may be responsible.

I have gathered the tilted piers (not sheared) suggest a rotatation at the founding area of them ? The almost simultaneous descent of the deck suggest weakness at more than one point during the failure. The deck separated from the piers when it fell implying that the failure's iniation was above ground, still connnected members dragging the remainder into to mess.

I wonder if the resurfacing operation then in progress was overlooking a concrete detetioration deep enough to have affected the reinforceing steel imbedded within the concrete? Had the deck concrete become so disintegrated that it no longer provided suffcient rigidity to resist flexing with the dynamic load of passing traffic ? Did such flexing take place long enough so as to create fatigue/failure in the rebar itself ?

posted on Wed, 08/08/2007 - 8:34pm
ChrisH's picture
ChrisH says:

Does anyone know where the concrete in the deck had been removed below the re-bar? (Where was it wobbling the most?) In most places only the top two inches were being removed for resurfacing.

In one study, strain gauges applied to particular steel members measured the variation in stress. Loaded dump trucks were driven across the bridge in various formations. The measured values came in lower than that predicted by finite element analysis. The explanation provided: stiffness of the deck was redistributing the load.

Take away the stiffness of the deck, and the bridge begins to wobble as reported. Enough wobbling and the metal fatigues. My guess: the south approach collapsed to the east, disconnecting the main span. Once the main span dropped far enough it weakened the north end which also broke free. Imbalanced by the loss of the main span, the north approach collapsed into itself, the north pier kicked towards the river by the reaction force. It was a "house of cards" waiting to come down.

posted on Fri, 08/10/2007 - 2:11pm
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

Another video on CNN showing traffic turning around just after bridge collapse.

posted on Thu, 08/09/2007 - 7:57am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

well, it can't be better than the video on you-tube about the baby water buffalo, a croc, a pride of lions, and a rampaging buffalo herd. It was awesome!!!!!!!!

posted on Thu, 08/09/2007 - 10:13am
KenBeaurline's picture
KenBeaurline says:

How much will a span like the I-35 W bridge flex as cars and trucks pass over? And did the I-35 W bridge have a pully system underneath to provide stability? Thanks Ken

posted on Fri, 08/10/2007 - 10:12am
Cheryl B.'s picture
Cheryl B. says:

I am so sorry for the people who lost their lives and their loved ones in this tragic accident and for those who were injured and yet so very thankful for all who came to the aide of their fellow human being. Again Minnesota has showen the world that we are a very caring and giving state. THANK YOU!

When I saw the first news conference with Mr. Plenty and several others, my visualization was, everyone standing there had their hand in someone elses pocket. I know from past experience there is still a "good old boys society" which is alive and well. When I think of all those who gave of themselves, being frightened, getting wet, giving their all to save another, I pray that the political 'BS' is tossed aside and if there is in fact someone or something that is responsible,that there will not be a cover-up simplly to cover a 'good old boys' butt. You may have killed these people. Tell the truth no matter how bad it hurts.

1. Could there have been an earthquake?

2. Could the structual integrety been compromised with the type repairs being done?

3.Could the drastic temperture variation have played a part?

4.God forbid, Could an inspector have falsified an inspection report to remain a member of the 'good old boys' club?

1. Granted, Minnesota is on pertty solid ground, but, it could happen. Our earth is ever changing.

2. Rest assured, PCI is a very good contractor, but maybe UNKNOWN to them, there may have been underlying problems that they were not made aware of prior to or during the work they were contracted to do. It has happened before, trust me!

3. With the increase in traffic, both auto and semi, and the weather conditions presented in Minnesota, taken an early toll on the steel that was used in the construction.

4. Worst of all, the inspectors took a pay off to keep their mouth shut, and lives were lost in order to save a dime. That would then fall back on the state, the federal government and the DOT. Its time to step up, face the heat and be honest with everyone that gave freely of themselves to save another. Think about it, when you are standing at the golden gates, what will your response be for the question; Have you killed anyone? Think about it.

We as tax payers and citzens much prefere honesty.

posted on Fri, 08/10/2007 - 4:02pm
Paige's picture
Paige says:

It was a very sad insident i remember being there myself , nearly died dont you know!

posted on Wed, 10/31/2007 - 5:38am
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to announce today that investigators have traced the failure to steel structures known as gusset plates that held together beams on the I 35W bridge that collapsed.

posted on Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:24am
Bill Kallman, PE's picture
Bill Kallman, PE says:

I 35W over Mississippi River Bridge #9340
August 15, 2007
Bill Kallman, PE
Investigation of Collapse by Kallman Engineering
On August 1, 2007 at 6:05 pm the subject bridge completely collapsed, from abutment to abutment. The bridge consists of approach spans consisting of stringers, and a 3-span deck truss over the river. Completed in 1967, this bridge has had major repairs since then, and in-depth inspections since 1997. Two engineering reports, one by University of Minnesota Civil Engineering Department in 2001, and the other by the URS Corporation in 2006 attempted to explain faults discovered in the field inspections made by Mn-Dot for over 30 years. The complete file is found on the Mn-Dot website and we have read all of this material and visited the actual bridge site in Minneapolis.

We conclude that the approach pavements on-grade shoved the bridge during the replacement of the transverse joints on the trussed section, hard enough to destabilize the upper chord members, detach the deck, and drop the center span at the points of contraflexure. Less than a second later all the other spans fell towards the river.

The very warm weather preceding August 1, 2007 and the deck joint removal defined the timing of the collapse. The “frozen” bearings, cracked and misaligned approach span members, early deck repairs, the tilted north pier, distressed condition of the on-grade highway pavement joints leading to the bridge, all point to severe pavement shove as the cause of collapse.

Quite often, and erroneously so, the phenomena of joint widening in P.C.
concrete pavement is associated with traffic loads, age, and water infiltration. NOT SO. As the concrete slabs expand and contract with temperature change, sub-grade material forced up into the joints ejects the joint filler and gradually widens the joint. This causes a general movement of the pavement slabs (downhill usually), often relieving the pressure by “blowing up” at a joint during hot weather. An asphalt repair is then made by a highway maintenance crew to be permanently replaced by concrete at a later date, which in turn increases the shove forces. Any bridge in the way of this pressure will have its bearings displaced. Later the abutment backwalls are sheared off at the bridge seats, decks rotated, and other signs of distress appear.

During my 35-year career with the New York State DOT, a pavement detail was implemented prior to the 1964 Worlds Fair in Queens, NY, where a 5-foot expansion joint was introduced into the at-grade concrete pavement. This joint was ordinarily asphalt on the sub-grade and served well, but required removal the resultant “bump”, annually. I recall later lengthening it to 25 feet for ease of construction and maintenance. These joints were called Stress Relief Joints. I know of no experimental work on this phenomena, however measurements of compression within pavement slabs have approached 8,000 p.s.i.. I believe this pavement shove affects many, if not most, bridges and should be eliminated by appropriate details in highway pavement design.

With great respect for the responsibility to our clients – the highway travelers – who in this case have been killed by our ignorance, I consider it our duty to inform the public of the cause of the collapse, our regret for the lives lost, and our program to see that this doesn’t happen again.

Bill Kallman
Structural Engineer
310 Mesnard Street
Hancock, MI 49930
Phone: (906) 482-5202
Fax: (906) 482-5202 (call first)
E-mail: [email protected]
CT 16546 MI 41074 NY 40760

posted on Fri, 02/22/2008 - 1:59pm
C's picture
C says:

I went over the bridge to go to a Twins game just a couple of weeks prior to the collapse. They were working on the bridge, jack hammers were banging, it was dusty. I said at that time, to my husband, that I didnt feel comfortable being on the bridge. It was an eerie 6th sense. When the bridge collapsed just a couple weeks later, it took me back to when my 6th sense kicked in just a couple weeks prior.

God Bless those who died and their families. God watch over those who will have life long struggles physically and emotionally because of that devasting day.


posted on Sat, 02/23/2008 - 12:09pm
Bill Kallman, PE's picture

Q: What force caused the collapse?

A: Structural Engineers consider gravity and environmental forces in the design of a bridge. Those forces are well-known, were accounted for and were not causative. A much less-known force, P.E.F. or Pavement Expansion Force was present at the site for at least 20 years. The unique feature of this force is that it grows larger with time, often reaching the compressive limit of concrete.

Q: How did this P.E.F. act on the bridge in order to cause the observed damage and finally separate the continuous steel truss?

A: P.E.F. worked at the level of the bridge deck. When portions of the deck were removed, this force moved down into the steel truss through steel "shear connectors" embedded in the concrete deck. Over a month of deck removal, the force in the compression members of the truss grew larger, causing these members to gyrate under the combined gravity and P.E.F. When they reached their limit, say 14,000 p.s.i., the gyrating members broke the connections at their ends. Since the largest compression force on this truss is just past the river piers, that is where the separation occurred.

Q: What is P.E.F.?

A: P.E.F. only occurs in concrete pavement. Fine material from the supportive sand, works its way up into the joints in the pavement due to thermal changes. This causes the original width of the joint to widen over time. This increase in width produces P.E.F . if a reacting force is available in opposition to it .

In conformance with the American Society of Civil Engineer's Ethical Code, which requires a civil engineer to consider the public his/her client, the author is publishing his findings to the public so that this tragedy need not occur again.

posted on Thu, 03/20/2008 - 4:48pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I can't believe this happened! I feel so sorry for the families that lost their beloved ones!

posted on Thu, 05/08/2008 - 5:56pm
SLC's picture
SLC says:

That is sad how the brigde had collapse cause a lot of people had got hurt and some just didn't make it at all. Minnesota brigde should be build much stronger and that it can hold lots of weight cause it collapse from traffic. Another thing is that the bridge should be really stable and unbreakable.

posted on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 12:12pm

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