October 25


I attended an NCITE breakfast meeting yesterday where Jim Kranig from Mn/DOT and Don Sobania from the City of Minneapolis gave presentations on the traffic management response to the I-35W Bridge Collapse.  Here is my take on their presentations (these aren’t bullet points from their slides).

Jim’s Top 5 Comments:

  1. Mn/DOT is very fortunate to have over 100 changeable message signs they can deploy around disasters to manage traffic.  They have a partnership with a radio station and were able to switch the radio station over to live coverage within ten minutes of the disaster.  This was put on the message signs, so motorists had a way of quickly becoming well informed.
  2. They have over 150 cameras on the Twin Cities freeway system.  The RTMC was able to look at the collapse immediately and monitor the road network around the site.  They have been able to make minor changes to their system and then monitor their changes in real time.
  3. Mn/DOT has FIRST trucks roving the system.  They were on site within 20 minutes putting up barricades.
  4. Mn/DOT deals with crashes on the freeways on a daily basis and closes freeway segments several times a year for things like semi-trucks rolling over.  The bridge collapse was significantly more severe, but Mn/DOT’s experience allowed them to respond quickly and appropriately.
  5. The Twin Cities has a robust 800mhz communication system in place.  It worked amazingly well during the disaster.  All agencies were able to communicate with each other.  Minnesota took this lesson learned from 9/11 to heart.

Don’s Top 5 Comments:

  1. Don started with a few "funny" slides that showed how lacking Minneapolis is when it comes to the "tools" Mn/DOT has. 
  2. Minneapolis doesn’t have an emergency operation response center, but the traffic engineering conference room became their default center.
  3. Minneapolis didn’t have a comprehensive phone number list.  Luckily they were able to get the word out to their employees in a peicemeal fashion.
  4. The local street network has to carry the 80,000 vehicles per day that used the bridge to access downtown Minneapolis.  Those people are finding creative ways to use the street system and the ripple effect is out further than they first thought it would be.
  5. The disaster consumed upper management’s time for a month.  Minneapolis didn’t have an organizational system in place to shift decision making responsibilities if the head honchos were out.  Luckily, the city has great staff and was able to basically operate on cruise control.  In the future, they need to develop a better organizational structure to deal with emergencies.  There is still routine public works business that has to be done even if you just had a disaster two weeks ago.
  • As a commuter, I experience a bridge collapse because a truck accident caused the bridge to be caught on fire and eventually collapse. I thought Caltrans, the state government that is in charge of these projects, did a timely job on fixing and repairing the collapsed bridge. As a result, I took a different highway to commute from home to my school. However, I also agree that along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the California DOT need to efficiently use the resources that they have. Look at the San Francisco Bay Bridge that over 100,000 commuters cross daily. Caltrans could have done a better job on the deteriorating western span of the bridge. Commuters are fed up on how Caltrans dealt with an incident where a cable snapped on the bridge. Both commuters and I agree that Caltrans could have done a better job. I believe Caltrans did not consider safety as a top priority but instead focused on profitability. This is not what engineers should be doing. As a consequence, there was another incident in which an I-beam collapse on the bridge. This time, Caltrans focused more on safety which I think they learned from the previous incident. However, the complaints that the community had could have been avoided if Caltrans had done their job from the very beginning.

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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