3 Years Later, Minneapolis Bridge Debris Removed
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
This week, more than three years after the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River, workers have begun moving the remaining wreckage from a public park into storage.
The entire span of the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour on August 1st, 2007, killing 13 people. Since then, pieces of twisted steel have been kept just downstream from the site of the collapse, in a park called Bohemian Flats.
Last year, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board sued to have the debris moved elsewhere. Scott Vreeland is a board commissioner, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
Mr. SCOTT VREELAND (District 3 Commissioner, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board): Thank you very much.
BLOCK: And are you a happy man now that this wreckage is being taken away from the park?
Mr. VREELAND: Yes, it'll be great to get this park back. It's a beautiful location. It's right across from the University of Minnesota. They're building a new science building, and it's right at the beginning of one of the most beautiful places on the Mississippi River, the one true gorge in the Mississippi.
BLOCK: And you said to get the park back. Has the park been closed because this wreckage has been there?
Mr. VREELAND: A very large part of the park was fenced in around these metal wreckage pieces.
BLOCK: And I gather the Parks Department has taken a financial hit from having a big chunk of the land fenced off.
Mr. VREELAND: Well, we have some parking revenue, and this was the Minneapolis Harbor at one time. There have been boats that could go out of here and show folks the river gorge.
The financial hit is one thing. The real issue is just getting this park back and open for folks to enjoy.
BLOCK: I'm looking at a photograph of these pieces. They're twisted. It looks like they're girders from the bridge themselves. Why were they stored at Bohemian Flats in the first place?
Mr. VREELAND: Well, after they did the rescue, then they began collecting the pieces for forensic evidence for the National Transportation Safety Board to look at. So they were kind of laid out in some kind of order so they could see where the pieces came from and try to determine what was the cause of the collapse.
And then the pieces remained there because of other litigation and the fact that these would be evidence for potential lawsuits and further litigation.
BLOCK: I wonder what it's been like for people visiting the park to be seeing these large pieces of twisted steel now three years after this accident.
Mr. VREELAND: Well, there's some beautiful photographs from the Washington Avenue Bridge that folks have sent me, and in an abstract way, it's a very interesting, kind of laid-out piece of strange artwork.
But for one of my neighbors, who was practically under the bridge when it collapsed, this was very disturbing. And every time he went by, this was really heartbreaking for him.
So there's a lot of emotion to this. And the consensus is that these pieces have to be removed and kept as evidence anyway, so getting the park cleared of all of this debris will allow us to continue to redevelop this park.
BLOCK: Mr. Vreeland, what's it been like to watch these girders being cut up and starting to be taken away?
Mr. VREELAND: Well, I go by the park every day on my way to the park board headquarters. And it feels really good to see the crane there and these pieces being loaded on a truck. Again, having this park back is really wonderful, and I'm really glad that the pieces are going.
BLOCK: Scott Vreeland is the commissioner for District 3 on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Mr. Vreeland, thanks for talking with me.
Mr. VREELAND: Thank you so much.
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