Bridge collapse a wake-up call

The tragic events that transpired on Wednesday, Aug. 1, when the I-35W bridge collapsed have deeply affected us all. Our hearts go out to all of the victims and their families, as well as those who worked selflessly to save lives and help the injured. It is apparent that the quick and effective response of the city of Minneapolis and all of the emergency responders saved lives and brought order to a frightening and chaotic situation. Our heartfelt thanks and admiration goes out to all of them for their efforts and compassion.

This tragedy has brought about a renewed focus on the pressures on our transportation system and maintaining our state’s crumbling infrastructure. We have a real opportunity before us to not only learn from this tragedy so we can prevent it from happening again, we also have growing consensus from elected leaders and the public alike that good infrastructure does matter. A clear example of the benefits of investing in infrastructure was the success of the Allied Matrix for Emergency Response radio system used during the response. This new system allowed our various emergency agencies to talk to one another — whereas a radio system failure had plagued New York City on 9/11.

The State Legislature strengthened our commitment to emergency response this session by funding the expansion of this valuable system throughout our state — soon, every county will be better prepared to handle a disaster.

As we begin to move into the planning stage for a new bridge, we believe several things need to happen. First, while we agree that replacement of this major artery into our city needs to take place in a timely manner, we also want to caution against leaving out key components of a successful long-term plan. Investment in mass transit alternatives, both light rail and expanded bus lines, is key to alleviating congestion and reducing stress on our infrastructure. It is important to explore the possibility of including a light-rail line on the new I-35W bridge, as well as have expanded transit included in any transportation funding legislation we consider during a special session. To move forward without considering all of our transportation needs would be short-sighted; we have the opportunity to start fresh. Let’s make sure we do the job right.

We believe that the public needs to be involved in the development of the plans for rebuilding this bridge. Thousands of Minnesotans and visitors travel this bridge daily — to commute and from work, to attend sporting events and to travel to other parts of our state. Every driver in our state has a vested interest in what happens next, and we encourage you to attend public meetings and contact your state legislators and city and county officials with your opinions and feedback.

Transportation issues have long been a top priority for both of us, so we were pleased to be appointed to the newly formed joint House and Senate committee charged with investigating the collapse of the I-35W bridge. This bipartisan committee will review the policies and practices of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), as well as decision-making at the department in response to bridge inspection reports. We will also be reviewing the inspections and decisions relating to other bridges in Minnesota. Any recommendations that come out of our findings will be relayed back to MnDOT, as well as to the State Legislature.

We are both committed to moving forward from this tragedy in a responsible way that will not only prevent another tragedy, but will also make the necessary and overdue investments in our state’s infrastructure. It is vital that we restore public confidence in our roads and bridges, as well as in our state agencies and the people who lead them.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) represents portions of Southwest in the Minnesota House and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) represents communities in Southwest and Downtown in the Minnesota Senate.