I-35W bridge to open Thursday

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The new Interstate 35W bridge will open Thursday, just more than 13 months after the old bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, joined Monday by local, state and federal officials on the new bridge, announced that it will open at 5 a.m. Thursday.

“Thirteen months ago Minnesota experienced a tragedy of historic proportions,” Pawlenty said. “We saw in that event the very worst, but we also saw the very best in the response and in our citizens.”

Andy Gannon , a survivor of the collapse, said it was hard for him to return to the bridge.

“I had to stay in the car for a moment, because it was the same way I came in that day,” he said.

Gannon said he was heading to a wake in Roseville last year when the bridge collapsed from underneath him.

Thursday, when the bridge opens, Gannon said he plans on finishing his trip to Roseville.

“I never got there. Some people think I am crazy, but this is my way to get closure,” he said.

State patrols will monitor traffic on both ends of the bridge Thursday morning to avoid a rush of vehicles trying to be the first to cross the bridge.

Pawlenty also revealed the design for a memorial in honor of the 13 people who died when the bridge collapsed.

The memorial, dubbed the Remembrance Garden , will be located in Minneapolis’ Gold Medal Park. Many Minnesotans gathered there right after the collapse, said Tom Oslund , the landscape architect who designed Gold Medal Park.

“The idea behind the memorial is simplicity,” he said.

The memorial will contain 13 metal beams displaying the names of the victims. They will surround a black granite fountain.

The beams and fountain will rest on a 65-foot-wide circle within an 81-foot rock square. The 81-foot square references the date the bridge collapsed, Aug. 1, and the 65-foot circle refers to the time of the collapse — 6:05 p.m.

A fundraiser will be held to raise the $1 million needed to build and maintain the memorial, Pawlenty said.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said 11 months is an unusually short amount of time for a new bridge to be constructed.

“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to build a bridge this fast in America, but it has,” Peters said. “These lanes will be forever safer because of the 13 people who have lost their lives.”

According to the state’s contract with Flatiron Construction Corp., the company will get $200,000 for every day the bridge is finished before Dec. 24, up to 100 days. Monday was the 100-day mark, but Flatiron spokeswoman Amy Barrett said the bonus is still up in the air.

The construction team could be eligible for up to a $20 million bonus.

Barrett credited much of the speed to the Minnesota construction crew.

“Flatiron has worked all over the world, but they have been really impressed with the Minnesota crew,” she said.

Chris Burgess, lead design engineer for FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc., said crews worked seven days a week and during holidays.

“They are in tune to quality and work through grueling conditions,” he said.

The new bridge includes smart bridge technology, which allows MnDOT to monitor the structural health of the bridge in real time .

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar was also at the conference.

“Safe it is, smart it was built,” said Oberstar, who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee .

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board said it’s close to identifying the cause of the collapse and plans to give the details at a public hearing in Washington on Nov. 13.