Some not so eager to drive new I-35W bridge

Margi Pemble
Margi Pemble saw the collapse of the I-35W bridge up close, from the window of her downtown condo.
MPR Photo/Michael Caputo

When Margi Pemble looks at the new I-35W bridge, she sees the orange-vested construction workers. And they remind her of the collapse.

Thirteen months ago, when the old bridge fell, Pemble saw it happen from her window on the 14th floor of the Riverview Tower, a high-rise condominium complex just a third of a mile away.

Earlier this week at the condo, she recalled the memories of how the bridge buckled and heaved right before the collapse, tossing construction workers in the air.

The bridge is moving us into the future, but we're still connecting two pieces from the past.

"Now watching the construction workers on the bridge at this point -- it makes me nervous," Pemble said. "Watching them work on that bridge over there and I just think, I don't know if I'll ever be able to cross it. I know I will. But I don't know when."

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Pemble has many memories of that day. She is a pediatric nurse for Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, and was a first responder to the collapse.

She was sent to help the young people who were on that school bus, which was trapped on the bridge. She remembers comforting two children, the kids of the injured bus driver.

"I could see them bringing the backboard in to transport their mother, and I'm a pediatric nurse so I have my tricks," Pemble said. "I asked them if they knew what a surfboard was and they said yeah. And I said, 'They're going to bring a surfboard in to put your mom on, isn't that kind of funny?'"

Pemble doesn't live at the Towers any more, although she still lives in the city. She says these memories of the collapse, and the aftermath, create an irrational but unavoidable, fear. That's compounded by the hurried timetable for the new bridge.

"We wanted this bridge to go up so fast," she said. "It produces a little anxiety, knowing they wanted to do this in the middle of winter."

Many of the people who responded to MPR News about the new I-35W bridge say they will travel on it as before.

Brian Herder
Brian Herder of Minneapolis has been taking a different route since the bridge went down, and says he likes seeing the city's neighborhoods along the way.
Photo courtesy of Brian Herder

But others, like Margi, are either anxious or ambivalent about the new span.

David Burck of Minneapolis explained his reluctance this way: "Maybe those feelings from its loss haven't really been resolved yet, in my mind, for me."

Others developed new commuting habits. Some became bus riders, and others found new routes.

Brian Herder, an ad agency executive, was the in habit of driving 35W from his Minneapolis home to visit his grown children who lived on the other side of the river.

After the collapse, he took city streets -- which at first were an inconvenience. Then he started to like his new path.

"You get to see communities, and I'm driving by parks I'd never seen before," Herder said. "It's kind of nice not to be in that cluster of cars kind of inching their way across town. And there is going to be even less traffic on some of those roads that I'm used to taking, and so I'll cheerfully take those when possible."

Herder admits that when he has to get somewhere fast, he will use the 35W bridge.

But when it comes to commuting on this brand new bridge, Margie Pemble thinks some drivers will have a hard time forgetting what happened.

"The bridge is moving us into the future, but we're still connecting two pieces from the past," she said. "I think that it's going to be difficult for people -- that there is going to be some backlash for people who think that there is going to be all this change, when there is still stuff there that they are going to have to deal with."