Patch and Pray - Minnesota I-35 Bridge Disaster

Flawed from the Start and Neglected for Forty Years

The collapse of the Interstate Highway 35 Bridge in Minneapolis, that spans the Mississippi river, left some 13 people dead and seventy injured. The disaster made the news for a time, long enough for the capitalist media to capture a human-interest story and compete for advertising dollars. The bridge was built in 1967 with a steel truss or “deck truss” design that allowed the planners to build a bridge without impeding riverboat and barge traffic. Today this bridge design is considered structurally obsolete.

The main span of the bridge was held up by four concrete pilings and an elaborate system of beams and “gusset plates” to which the beams are riveted. In the 1970s this type of bridge design was found to be structurally deficient as there was no room for failure in any part. The smallest crack could send the entire bridge down.

Like so many of the estimated 27.1 percent of US bridges regarded by the ASCE as “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete”, the I-35 Bridge was built with a flawed design and then consistently neglected when it came to repairs and inspections. (1) The ASCE gave US bridges a passing grade of “C” in its last ‘report card”, as bridges themselves are not in as bad a state of repair as, levees, dams and sewerage systems are in the US.

The National Transportation and Safety Board, in its latest press release on the investigation in to the I-35 Bridge collapse, hinted for the second time at a failure in the bridge’s gusset plates that held the beams together. (2)

The very transportation system on which US capitalism relies is crumbling, cracking up at the seams. Highways now, no longer receiving funds for repairs from the Federal government, now must rely wholly on the states and municipalities to maintain their infrastructures. Capitalism’s profit drive itself was the main factor motivating the flawed design of the bridge in the first place, as was its neglect and collapse. As capitalism’s limited atomized individualistic perspective carries with it the seeds of its own demise so too does its very physical infrastructure begin to crumble. When repairs are made to such an infrastructure with a “patch and pray” method of fixing only that which breaks and praying that things don’t break in the future, long term safety issues are ignored out of a need to keep budgets solvent and costs down and the physical infrastructure needed for a transportation system tends to fall apart under the weight of transportation system designed on behalf of capitalists like the formerly “Big Three” automakers. As far as capital investment in infrastructure goes, it can only continue to decline as capitalism drives towards its own destruction with the aim of taking the whole world with it and making workers pay for it all. Now imagine, in the face of all this anarchic capitalist market, how a transportation system would look in a communist society where taking care of social needs would prevail.


(1) American Society for Civil Engineers. Report Card for America’s Infrastructure 2005. .

(2) National Transportation and Safety Board. Third Update on the Minnesota Bridge Collapse. NTSB Advisory. Washington, DC. September 5, 2007 .