Thursday, August 02, 2007
Expert: Collapse was one-in-a-billion
Dr. Ted Galambos said he hopes to live long enough to find out exactly why this Minneapolis bridge collapsed.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Baffling. Sudden death of a bridge. As if a 50-year-old man with no prior health issues suddenly dropped dead while walking down the street.

These are the descriptions just given to me by Dr. Ted Galambos, emritus professor of structural engineering at the University of Minnesota. Galambos, the man I went to for answers on why this bridge collapsed, actually had none.

Galambos says the bridge design, its structure and its four decades carrying traffic over the Mississippi, make what happened here yesterday virtually impossible.

I asked all the questions: Cracks in steel? Construction accident? Salt corrosion?

Galambos says anyone of them can bring down a bridge-but not like this. It was complete and instant failure. Cracks and corrosion give warnings, construction accidents can be witnessed. There is no evidence, he says, of either.

The surveillance video seen on CNN shows an event he calls one-in-a-billion; it just doesn't happen.

And yet it did.

We of course are searching for instant answers. Dr. Galambos says the methodical piecing together of how the bridge collapsed will take time and much patience. He is 78-years-old. He told me he hopes to live long enough to learn the real cause.

-- By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 1:47 PM ET
An overpass collapsed near my house less than a year ago,killing 5 injuring 6.It happened on a week-end.
It was around 40 years old also,it was supposed to last another 40 years.
After a commission was put in place,they found out that the overpass was installed the wrong way. The most important piece wasn't put at the right place,therefore,making the overpass more fragile. They think that many more were installed like that.
I hope that they will inspect all the other bridges in the area like they did with ours. It turns out,some need to be destroyed,others are forbidded to big trucks.
And the fact that a train ran under it in Minnesota,would that have fragilized the structure with all the vibrations? I don't know anything about engineering. But everywhere in North America,millions of people pass on bridges each day. It would be nice to know we are safe.
Again, all my prayers to the families.
Joanne R.Laval Quebec
Posted By Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 2:11 PM ET
Hi Drew,
One in a billion chance. That's what makes it so hard to accept something so unacceptable. I guess it still comes down to living our lives as if this was our last seconds. One in a billion chance of something taking our lives could happen to any of us, at anytime, and that should humble us.
We really need to treat each other well. My prayers continue for the people of Minneapolis and anywhere else where tragedy robs a life.
Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.
Posted By Anonymous : 2:21 PM ET
Having lived in Minneapolis for many years I know that bridge well. . .I was at a bus stop in Montreal at 6:25 (CT) when my mother called saying she and my younger brother had crossed the bridge southbound at 5:38 (CT) (she had looked at the clock because it was bumper to bumper traffic).

It's pretty surreal.


Montreal, QC
Posted By Anonymous : 2:45 PM ET
Why is everyone dismissing the bridge collapse as an act of terrorism? How can the experts says "I have no idea how this happen," but can say confidently that it wasn't an act of terrorism.
Posted By Anonymous : 2:48 PM ET
Maybe one in a billion was the probability if all reported and documented measures of safety and reliability are accurate. During the investigation they will build a computer model of this bridge as it is can compare it to how it was 1 second before it began to collaspe. There is a logical cause for this tragedy.
Fort Worth, TX
Posted By Pat : 2:50 PM ET
How can you say that it had no prior health problems? Here's a quote "In 2005, according to Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, the I-35W bridge scored a 50 out of 120 rating in a federal highway inspection of structural integrity, which marked the bridge as structurally deficient." That doesn't sound like a glowing endorsment for this bridge. Source
Posted By Tim, Indiana : 3:10 PM ET
I am amazed at Dr Galambos comment. this bridge received an NBIS grade of four,..i.e. serious deterioration...on a scale of 1 (imminent collapse) to ten (excellent). Photographs of the bridge show rust on the bottom chord, at connector plates, and at the pier mounts, yet several lanes were closed to traffic, thus producing asymmetrical loads, while surface repairs were done.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:13 PM ET
There are reasons this happened. While they may not be obvious right now, with time we will all have the answers we so desprately seek. I pray for the ones caught in this terrible tragedy as well as their familes.

Be safe,

Posted By Maggie T. from Virginia Beach, VA : 3:14 PM ET
In the survalence video, it looked like a controlled demolition to me.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:15 PM ET
Virtually impossible? Tell that to the family and friend's who lost loved ones. Someone should be held accountable for this. Someone made a mistake and people died.
Posted By James : 3:15 PM ET
We will have the reason this happened. Not today, not tomorrow, and not as soon as the victims and their families would like to know but, nonetheless we will know. I am praying for the victims and their families. I hope that with each day that comes there is a chance at stopping this from happening again, whether on a larger or smaller scale. This can be prevented once we have the reasons. Those reasons will just take time. Its what we do about it afterwards that counts now.
Posted By Maggie T. Virginia Beach, VA : 3:19 PM ET
" One in a billion "?. This is why engineers should keep to dealing with the facts and not dwell into the world of probability. Given the state of our decaying highway infrastructure I liken the probability of this disaster as more like a man with a critcal heart condition walking down the street and dropping dead. Those odds are much better than 1 in a billion I'm afraid and yes, we will see this happen again more often in the near future.
Posted By john m : 3:25 PM ET
I work down the street from 35W, approximately half a mile from the collapse sight. I could not begin to count how many times I have crossed that bridge, or for that matter how many times I have been in bumper-to-bumper traffic on that bridge. I was fortunate enough not to be on that bridge at 6:05 pm last evening. All my friends and family are accounted for. Thank heavens.
Life is short, it can be taken from you at any time. PLEASE do not take it for granted. Tell everyone important to you how much you care about them before it's too late.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:26 PM ET
The total collapse seems so odd like the whole bridge was being supported at one point. It reminds me of the famous black and white video in which it shows the bridge,the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940, twisting so violently it finally fell apart which one theory was believed to be due to the wind causing a resonant frequency to have developed on the bridge which caused it to loose all resistance to the wind. I heard on your weather that a fairly substantial wind of maybe 15 to 20 mph was blowing across the bridge and jackhammers were being heard at the time of the collapse, maybe the vibration from the jackhammers intune with the wind caused a resonant frequency to develop on the bridge causing it to just fall apart, just like the bridge in the famous black and white video.
Posted By Randy Althoff in Indianapolis,In : 3:37 PM ET
The tragic collapse of the bridge yesterday got me to thinking about other bridges.

Maybe we should go back to stone bridges. Today's bridges in America don't last very long and they never meet the roadway without a bump or a dip. Many are obsolete or too small by the time they are even completed. Modern engineering doesn't stand a chance to the builders of yesterday.

Take a look at the famed Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. This bridge was built almost 500 years ago and still stands even after numerous earthquakes in the region.

Take a look at another stone bridge in the Czech Republic, the Charles Bridge that is a short 650 years old. Listed in the "Most Beautiful Bridges of the World", it was built in 1357 to replace an earlier bridge that was destroyed.

Lets trek on over to Aberdeen, Scotland and their Brig o Balgownie bridge dating from 1286 and still in use today.

Even in the United States, we have 165 year old High Bridge in New York and Steel Bridge in Oregon that are both in use and good condition today.

Now, we have a 40 year old bridge collapsing yesterday and a 35 year old bridge being completely replaced here. The Woodman bridge has a huge bump in it that will almost certainly remove your air-dam if you go the posted 40 MPH speed limit. A small bridge in Denver had to be replaced about 10 years ago and it was only about 10 years old. It seems that we are no longer capable of building a bridge that will last.

One must ask why with all the advances in science and engineering during the past 5 centuries why we can't build a decent bridge today? Why can't we have a street and bridge meet so the pavement is the same level? Why don't we build bridges like they used to? Even aquaducts built 15 centuries ago are still supplying water to Istanbul.

Obviously, when it's cheaper to build a bridge like the one in Minneapolis-St. Paul that only lasts 40 years and only kills a few people during its lifetime, but will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to cleanup and replace, one must ask where are the priorities? Why not build a bridge to last centuries instead of decades? Wouldn't it be cheaper in the long run?

We just don't make them like we used to. Somewhere along the line, the need to have something last has been lost.
Posted By Bob C : 3:43 PM ET
As a student of engineering I find it baffling that the one in a billion can actually occur but it can. In those instances where every molecule lines up just right, the weirdest things can happen. It may be very possible that no one is to blame but the nature of physics.
Posted By Kevin, CT : 3:44 PM ET
For years I have been reading reports about America's aging infrastruture and the declining state of our bridges and highways, yet little has been done to address the issue. I'm sometimes struck by the fact that we are spending billions on wars and rebuilding foreign countries, when our local governments and states could use some of the money to improve our quality of life and repair things like overcrowded and underfunded schools and an aging and over-utilized infrastructure....I don't just seems like stuff is catching up to us, in sometimes tragic ways. I've driven across some pretty ratty looking bridges and highways's scary. I truly hope this was a one in a billion event and not evidence of a broader problem.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:46 PM ET
On a failure like this I bet that it won't be one thing that is to blame. It will probably be a number of things adding up to the right circumstance to make the bridge fail. Weight on certain sections while a train is moving under it and a 10 MPH wind is blowing out of the south, etc. I hope that bridges that are currently at this bridges repair status are made more aware so that we won't take our ailing infratructure for granted.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:46 PM ET
A "one-in-a-billion event"? This is a proposterous estimate for an expert to make off the cuff, and it is not supported by the evidence. There are are far fewer than a billion major bridges built in modern times, yet structural failures, while unusual, are not unknown. The specific cause of the failure will not be known for awhile, but I expect that it will eventually be determined that the structure was underengineered in some way. It will no doubt be replaced with a substantially more robust structure, as is the usual practice when structures fail.
Posted By Gary A. Hill : 3:52 PM ET
Like a fifty year old, indeed; it wasn't that long ago that a fifty year old was considered elderly. Our infrastructure is aging, and we need to be willing to invest the billions of dollars it will take to overhaul and upgrade it. There are some problems which regular maintenance just can't fix. Unfortunately, I expect we will not invest the money, and we'll see more bridge collapses and steam pipe explosions.
Posted By Sarah C. from Oxford, MS : 4:03 PM ET
The chance is slim. There are a lot of bridges across the country rated worse than this one. Do we just tear them all down?

Let the experts figure it out, but either way I'm sure we will find this was a premature collapse. I guess when your number is up..
Posted By Rob A, Mpls. MN : 4:04 PM ET
For people that have no knowledge of structural engineering, which is most of the population, the things you here and read in the press will be taken out of context. A score of 50 can not be taken literally. There are a lot of factors that go into that score. Calling a bridge “structural deficient” also does not mean exactly what you think it means. I am a licensed Professional Engineer specializing in bridges, an I am a certified bridge inspector. People like me will investigate and determine the cause of the collapse. We take our profession very seriously and if there was a significant problem that bridge would have been closed immediately..
Posted By rspacht : 4:33 PM ET
Dear AC360 and readers,

Have any of you noticed a pattern of use by those in authority who brush reasonable concerns aside by labeling them as the products of hindsight?

Example: The Iraq war's mistakes are most often addressed with this... "Well, it's easy to speak of these matters in hindsight," or "It's easy to place blame using hindsight, but nobody could have predicted it."
But that's just it; it was predicted, AND by the generals whose opinions mattered.

The same goes for the bridge. Nearly 6 1/2 years ago this type of thing was a genuine concern as a liklihood, and yet ... what? It was too expensive? Well, now I'm sure the forseeable consequences and expenses will be greater emphasized, and it will cost that communitty even more. can we say "New Orleans levies?"

It seems to me that the only thing hindsight points us towards here is, there was an unreasonable willingness to neglect forsight when foreseeable consequences were obvious.
Posted By James Foley Kamiah, Idaho : 4:37 PM ET
I majored in math and I have a hard time with the one in a billion statistics being used here.

That number might be good in convincing enough people that this was anything but a preventable, foreseeable catastrophe, but that may be all it is.
Posted By liz, Montgomery, AL : 4:47 PM ET
I hate all the *hysteria* disasters stir up in our country. Are we all that obsessive-compulsive "get-a-lifers"?!? I'm ashamed to be an American--we are a sicko/psycho, self-observed, selfish, greedy, ignorant society/culture with no substance.

Yes, we will be seeing LOTS MORE of this kinda stuff--structural/bridge/roadway collapses, etc. and even *buildings* collapsing due to lack of maintenance--so be prepared. Oh, and pack some fresh water and blanket(s), flashlight, emergency medical/1st aid kit in all your vehicles!! And hold on tight!!
Posted By Sylvan, San Francisco, CA : 4:48 PM ET
Yes, we will be seeing LOTS MORE of this kinda stuff--structural/bridge/roadway collapses, etc. and even *buildings* collapsing due to lack of maintenance--so be prepared. Oh, and pack some fresh water and blanket(s), flashlight, emergency medical/1st aid kit in all your vehicles!! And hold on tight!!

No more speeding and tailgating, folks!
Posted By Stan, Seattle, WA : 4:49 PM ET
Speaking from an Engineering standpoint; the vibrations caused by a passing train, coupled with 40 years of such vibrations could have caused this to occur. This will happen to solid concrete only AND reinforced. The rods in the reinforced concrete will fail after repeted stress much the same as a paperclip will break after bending in one direction and then the other. This should be looked into as the majority of highways do not stop for railroad crossings but instead are bridged over them.
Posted By PA Engineer : 4:54 PM ET
My mom and I have been watching the coverage all day. My mom was wondering if anybody had asked the question "Did the train hit the bridge or any of the cars?" We can't imagine going through something like this. Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody.

Candice Carter
Posted By CAndice M. Carter : 5:04 PM ET
I fail to understand what is happening in this country. We are willing to spend billions of dollars for building roads and infrastructure in Iraq, but we cannot allocate enough money to maintain our own roads. Actually the federal budget for transportation was cut by this governmant.It is amazing that we cannot take care of our own bridges, but want to go and take care of bridges half way around the world on Iraq.
Posted By Anonymous : 5:15 PM ET
Looking at the numerous photos and video of the collapse, it seems that the most damaged section was the origin of the collapse. I noticed that the truss section fell outside the concrete support. The rest of the bridge fell or pivoted pretty much under the influence of gravity. Why don't the CNN expert engineers comment on the first place to look for a cause - the most damaged section? Instead, they use obtuse words like "out of plane" to mean the bridge was leaning to the side of the collapse. Hopefully, we can afford to get better engineers to build and maintain our infrastructure.
Posted By Mark DeVirgilio : 5:34 PM ET
If George Bush and his administration weren't so preoccupied with politics and the new Congress would get some guts, we would pay more attentiion to important thingslike taking care of our OWN country's roads and bridges! Forget about other counrties, take care of your OWN
Posted By Steve , Peoria, Ill. : 5:37 PM ET
what about all the cars that could be trapped under the wreckage of the bridge, how many are accounted for in the river, what if there are people trapped under the ruins of the bridge in their cars maybe in a air pocket, they need to get the heavy machinery in there now and get the debris out and ease the minds of some the families.
Posted By Brian Bozarth : 6:01 PM ET
Where is President Bush? Why is he not in Minneapolis?
Posted By Liz, Milwaukee, WI : 6:04 PM ET
Has anyone thought that when older bridges were built that the builders and engineers could not have possibly fathomed that one day the bridge would be expected to handle the unbelievable weight and quantity of today's vehicles? Our civilization has advanced faster and further than the builders thought it would.
Posted By katinka : 7:52 PM ET
In the few years i have lived in Birmingham I have seen 2 bridges MELTED by tractor trailers exploding and burning under them. No one died fortunately but to have a bridge melt is somewhat stunning. Perhaps the gentleman that suggested stone bridges is correct - maybe our new progressive materials aren't up to the wear and tear we put on them daily.....or up to your stupidity.
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 10:24 PM ET
Why on Earth is Bush coming to visit us? Without 35W, one of our traffic arteries, and the main path to downtown from the airport, traffic is already going to be horrible as people learn new routes to take. Every time he visits, they close some roads, and re-route others. This is going to be a nightmare. I am now plaining to stay home all weekend.

Unrelated, but afte this, I believe a little more in Karma. a few days ago, we found a stray dog, a female sheltie, and got her healthy, and groomed her, since it looked like she had been outside a long time. We called shelters, and posted 'found notices. On Wednesday evening, I was about to head downtown to a specialty bookstore, and my route would have taken me over that bridge 15 minutes either way of when it collapsed. The dog's owner called, and wanted to come get her, so I stayed home waiting for her. Had that not happened, I could have been on that bridge Scary stuff.

Scary stuff.
Posted By Ryan from Minneapolis : 3:01 AM ET
Minneapolis Bridge Collapse and One In a Billion Statement-

Some of the NACE Background-

Also, get a copy of/read this book-

And review this North Sea Oil Platform's Collapse-

I doubt that this is the one in a billion event postulated. In the case of the World Trade Centre, it was the temperatures to
which the structural steel was taken that weakened them and caused the first collapse, and the extra weight and inertia folded the rest all the way down like dominos- Once collapse starts, there is no way to stop it-

My guesses...

- The 40 years of expansion/contraction from +40C to -40C in a typical Minneaoplis Year;
- Coupled with the heat wave we have been experiencing;
- Plus fatigue or corrosion fatigue of the support members under the deck;
- And the weight of the concrete deck on the structurals-

(Look at the adjacent bridge- and the way it is built - it didn't fail)....

Dennis R. Maki
Calgary, Canada
Posted By Anonymous : 10:16 AM ET
This is a tragedy, lets not politicize it. I'm not an engineer or a demolitions expert, but from the video I saw, it looked like the bridge just fell. I would think that it would crack, fall first at the weak points, something other than just collapsing straight down. Since it feel the way it did, I was expecting to see explosions, because the way it looked had terrorism written all over it, but I didn't notice any of that. It could be that it was just God's will, and like some others mentioned in the blog about the physical conditions being just right for the collapse like "Galloping Gertie".
Posted By Nestor, Austin, TX : 11:10 AM ET
One CNN headline said "State Chooses Inspection Over Repairs". There is your answer. The bridge could have been reinforced, as was recommended, or "watched", as was chosen. Why? The Governor pledged "no New Taxes" when elected 5 years ago and has been unable to come to grips with the folly of that decision ever since. Apparently we won't be able to repair our bridges until we get a new Governor.

Willing Taxpayer in Minnesota
Posted By Anonymous : 11:28 AM ET
Our world has become "disposable": Cheaper is better because everyone can benefit quickly. The US is becoming a huge landfill. Quality is not as important to many Americans as is the need for quick, easy and cheap. This goes for structures, vehicles, clothing and even interior design which has become more like temporary set design for a theatrical performance.

I'd rather have less, and have it last a lifetime, then have lots of junkyard caliber bridges, tunnels, roads, houses, & other "things".
Posted By Deb, Richmond VA : 11:44 AM ET
I'm no bridge expert or engineer but after looking at the video and pictures, I would be interested to see if the base supports of the bridge have been undermined by water flow. You will notice that one of the base supports is angled after the fall. If the steel supports fell and they had enough force to push the concrete supports out at a angle, this to me would seem to indicate a failure under the water level and not with the steel itself. Also, I was looking at some depth gauges and was there a significant increase in the water depth of the Mississippi?
Posted By Randy Greer, Walnut Creek, CA : 1:58 PM ET
Mr. Bush once again you failed the United States of America and the very people who pay your salary. This is one of the reasons why you should be impeached.

This accident and the neglectful treatment of the citizens of the Gulf Coast, not to mention the lack of equipment for our military personnel and the shameful treatment that they get when they come home wounded, did not need happen if the Repulicans under the Presidency of Reagan, Bush (41) and Bush (43)where in full compliance with Constitution of the United States. Article II of the Constitution does not give the President/Vice President authority to cut taxes. This is what Article I, Section 8, Clause One Congressional duties, "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." This is the Members of Congress job description and they swore an oath to "uphold, defend, and to support The Constitution of the United States of Ameria." What the Republican's are trying to do to this nation is to bankrupt it and that is tanatmount to treason.

The GOP, big business, and the neo-Cons are trying to destory this nation in everyway that they can and this also includes outsourcing, pollution, global warming, and refusing to support national health insurance.
Posted By Donna A. Reuter, Bremerton, WA : 2:51 PM ET
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Forty years ago was not that long ago....e had already had several missions to outer space by that time. This horribletragedy reinforces what happened in New Orleans almost two years ago - when the levees broke. We need to work on our infrastrucure, to look at not only the economic cost of a project, but the social as well. Our levees were built using the economic cost, not taking into account the socio-economic cost if they failed. Just a citizen of Louisiana.
My heart goes out to the people of Minneapolis and I hope they will find the answer to the bridge collapse as soon as possible,

Ruth Brewington, Metairie, LA
Posted By Anonymous : 4:19 PM ET
The State of Minn. has in their budget money for building a new stadium for the Vikings, but they can't build a new bridge?
Posted By Cary-- Lowell, IN : 4:40 PM ET
For those who want to attack the Governor of Minnesota, why not look at your legislature that did not use any of the $2.1 billion SURPLUS in your state for fixing infrastructure instead of raising taxes?
Posted By Nestor, Austin, TX : 1:01 AM ET
Hi Drew Griffin/AC360
Local government offical are responsible for the upkeep of the
bridge.This bridge has a steel
fromework.The age of the bridge at 40 years.Have started to dacay.
They should take more care over
their work.
Posted By Hyo kyungJung / south Korea : 4:56 AM ET
At a time of crisis, it is up to our government to help its people to regain composure and aid them in assistance. However, time and time again, this administration has done little for its people during time of disasters and great chaos. It is a shame how little the American government has helped people out of poverty and disaster. Instead, the government continues to create poverty and violence abroad in Iraq. As one of the nations pledge to eliminate world poverty and hunger in the Millennium Project, the government is doing very little to uphold that promise. According to the Borgen Project, whose goal is to fight global poverty, the US government has spent $340 billion dollars on the war. However, it only takes $19 billion dollars annually to end world poverty. This government needs a new direction and a new leader. And we have to start making poverty a leading political issue in the White House.
Posted By Mstessyrue : 6:00 PM ET
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