City and state officials described a surreal and sobering scene after returning from a close-up look at the I-35W bridge collapse just before noon Thursday.
Minneapolis City Council members were among those taken by Metro Transit bus to the neighboring 10th Avenue bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River just east of the disaster site. The bridge was closed to the public Thursday.
“You’re very close to the site at that point,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman (5th Ward). “It’s a scene like nothing I have ever seen.”
Goodman said she saw rescue workers on the fallen bridge deck and a team of divers working off of a “fairly large barge” in the middle of the river. Several hours after the scene she described, divers were ordered out of the water because of safety concerns.
“It’s very quiet and very still,” Goodman said. “Cars and debris are in the most unusual places. You really get a sense of the enormity of the situation.”
Council Member Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward) described the scene as “breathtaking” and “emotional.”
“I think the general reaction was just of absolute shock, regarding the amount of damage,” Hofstede said.
Council Member Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said the view from the 10th Avenue Bridge was unreal.
“It’s a devastating scene,” Remington said. “You don’t even feel like you’re looking at a real vista. You feel like you’re on a movie set”
He said the catastrophe almost certainly would inform next year’s budget, for which planning was just getting underway. It will put a spotlight on the state of city infrastructure, an issue that may not get enough attention, he said.
“We don’t think about it until it goes bad,” he said. “Obviously it’s gone bad here.”
Riding with council members were several Hennepin County commissioners and state legislators.
State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) said the images of crushed and submerged vehicles lingered in his mind.
“You can’t help but think about every one of those cars,” Hornstein said. “Every single one of those cars has a story.”
While the recovery effort remains the first priority, Hornstein said the state legislature eventually would focus its efforts on preventing another tragedy.
“There’s lots of questions,” he said. “And I think, appropriately, where the state has a role, we’ll be asking those questions.”
Hornstein, who is chair of the House Transportation and Transit Policy Subcommittee, said one of largest questions looming over the disaster was regarding the resources available to inspect and maintain Minnesota’s bridges.
“Clearly, that’s on our minds,” he said. “Are there enough inspectors? What is the condition of these bridges?”