Opening Remarks of Honorable Mark V. Rosenker, Acting Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
Sunshine Meeting of the NTSB on
I-35W Bridge Collapse
November 13, 2008
Good Morning. My name is Mark Rosenker and it is my privilege to serve as the Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. I would like to take a moment to introduce my colleagues and fellow Board Members, Debbie Hersman, Kitty Higgins, Robert Sumwalt, and Steve Chealander.
On behalf of the Board Members and staff of the NTSB, I would like to offer our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible accident and to the survivors who are still recovering. Many are here in the audience with us today, some are viewing this from a location in St. Paul, Minnesota, and others are viewing in other locations via the webcast. We are convened here today in a public Sunshine Meeting to consider the facts of this accident in an effort to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.
On August 1, 2007, all of us were shocked to see the images on our televisions – the remains of an Interstate highway bridge that had collapsed during rush hour in one of our nation’s major metropolitan areas.
Tragically, 13 people lost their lives and nearly 150 others were injured when the I-35W bridge plummeted into the Mississippi River. Understandably, the accident raised many questions in the minds of Americans about the condition of our nation’s highway infrastructure.
The investigation the NTSB launched that night was to involve the cooperation of Federal, State and local authorities. It would take more than three months to conduct the on-scene examination of the mangled wreckage of the 1,900-foot-long, 8-lane bridge where it collapsed into the Mississippi, and the thousands of tons of steel that were removed from the river and laid out for detailed inspection at the Bohemian Flats Park down river from the collapse site. It would include visits to 14 other States to analyze the nature of their bridge assessment programs. It would involve the development of complex computer models of the entire bridge and of key gusset plate connections, as well as scores of computer runs to understand the likely mechanisms of failure, as well as ruling out specific factors. And just to make sure an extra set of eyes looked at what we were looking at, we asked one of the nation’s premier laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories, to conduct a detailed peer review of our methodology and our conclusions.
Among the organizations that worked with us over the past 16 months were the Federal Highway Administration and their Turner Fairbanks Research Facility; the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Jacobs Engineering Group, the successor to the original bridge designer; and PCI, the bridge construction contractor. We contracted with the State University of New York at Stonybrook and the SIMULIA company to assist our computer modeling efforts, and with the University of Minnesota to support on-scene work.
We were also supported on-site by the Minneapolis Police Department, the Minnesota State Police, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and the Minneapolis Fire Department. The American Red Cross, dozens of local organizations and scores of citizen volunteers also provided assistance, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the collapse.
Over the next two days you will see the results of that investigation, one that has dealt with extremely complex issues of structural mechanics in a comprehensive and thorough way.
I would like to assure everyone that the National Transportation Safety Board has examined every factor that may have played a role in this accident. We could do no less to assure the millions of Americans who cross our bridges every day that we have done all we can to see that such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.