September 18, 2008

Bridge to Somewhere

No, this is not going to be a commentary on Sarah Palin and her dishonest claims to have nobly stood up against pork barrel spending on unnecessary building projects that use taxpayers' money to benefit only a few people on a remote island in Alaska. Oops, too late.

Actually, this post is about the bridge across the Mississippi -- the rebuilt Interstate 35W bridge, which opened early this morning. Although the bridge is little more than a stone's throw from where I currently sit at work, I haven't actually seen it since it opened to the public. I did, however, go on the Star Tribune web site and watch a short video of the first wave of traffic, led by first responders and DOT maintenance trucks, making its way across the river shortly after 5am. You can see the various colored lights of the emergency vehicles twinkling in the darkness like Christmas lights, and hear the honking of the horns.

The whole thing was quite moving, for some reason. I haven't quite been able to put my finger on why. Certainly I'm relieved that the inconvenience of the detours is over, and I'm looking forward to much less traffic at the U of M West Bank exit, now that people won't be so tempted to get off there to use the 10th Avenue Bridge. But it's more than that. I didn't have a close to connection to anyone who was killed or injured when the old bridge fell. There's nothing that explains why I felt so emotional. But watching the two lines of traffic approaching from opposite ends of the bridge move towards each other, finally meeting in the middle and closing the dark chasm with a ribbon of light and sound, I just felt like something important had happened. A connection. A completeness.

I suppose the shine will be off quite quickly. New traffic snarls are already developing south of the bridge where people merge on to westbound Interstate 94. Sooner or later, we'll be hearing about the first fatality on the new bridge from some car accident. The elegant white concrete will inevitably prove an irresistible target for graffiti vandals. In the meantime, I'll enjoy this sense of wholeness, this satisfaction in the rejoining of the northern and southern halves of my city. In the words of E. M. Forster, "Only connect . . . live in fragments no longer."

Posted by ldfs at September 18, 2008 12:07 PM