Thursday, June 5, 2008

Winona cuts ties with Wisconsin

Well, not intentionally.

On Tuesday, the discovery of corrosion and holes in its gusset plates led MDOT officials to shut down the main bridge leading into and out of Winona, Minnesota. This heightened level of caution over the state's bridges is quite understandable in the wake of the tragic collapse that happened last year, and I'm certainly glad that officials are taking this seriously.

Even so, I can't even begin to imagine what a pain this closure will be for the thousands of people who rely on the Hwy. 43 bridge to commute to and from work and other places. You see, the next closest bridges that cross the mighty Mississippi are at least 50 miles away (Wabasha and La Crosse are the two nearest spots). That's one heck of a detour.

I was born in Winona and lived there for part of my childhood. I have pretty clear memories of crossing that bridge many, many times, and of the relatively long drive along the bluffs to get to the bridge that went into La Crosse (it had the nearest mall of any decent size, so we made the trip pretty frequently). I do not envy the people there now and their dilemma of how to cross the river.

Fortunately, it sounds like local officials are already gearing up to provide riverboat ferry service to commuters until the bridge can be re-opened. That's something, at least. Still, this certainly serves as a reminder of how important it is to maintain and update the most vital parts of our infrastructure. All it took was for one bridge to close, and the city of Winona has been nearly cut off from everything east of the river. Between this and the bridge collapse, it should lead to some pretty sobering thoughts--and, hopefully, serious action.

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