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Mayor: Bridge Collapse Brought People Together

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Minneapolis went silent today at 6:05 Central Time, marking the moment one year ago when the bridge collapsed. Among the other memorials around the city today, an interfaith service and a procession to appoint overlooking the bridge for a reading of the names of the 13 people who died. Earlier, we spoke with R.T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, about the meaning of this day.

Mayor R.T. RYBAK (Minneapolis, Minnesota): This was one of the worst days in history of Minneapolis and that will obviously be one of the things that we remember. But it was also, on some levels, one of the days that really showed us what we're made out of. At a period of time where the absolute worst had happened, where there is a catastrophe where there was great danger, people ran to help as opposed to ran away. There's a bridge that will be opening in just a month, only 13 months after the bridge collapsed, which is truly remarkable. So, we obviously mark this with mixed feelings but feelings that include the fact that we're proud of what we have done.

NORRIS: And Mayor, I remember so clearly - I think it was even on that day - Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said that this does not happen in America. With the clarity of time, you still don't know exactly what caused the bridge collapse.

Mayor RYBAK: We're still not certain why that bridge collapsed. There are obviously some very bright people involved in looking at that or some very knowledgeable people. But I'm very concerned that people who drive or cross bridges across America really don't have the answers they deserve. Even more important, in the wake of that collapse, I think many people, political levels from the - leaders from the president on down, all sorts of civic leaders, stood up and said, we're gonna do what it takes to make sure this never happens again. I do not believe we've delivered on that promise.

NORRIS: You know, I hear the disappointment that you're expressing. But as the Mayor of the largest city in Minnesota, do you bear some responsibility for not moving that all forward more?

Mayor RYBAK: As the mayor of a major city, I absolutely should be held accountable for infrastructure. I'm preparing my budget for next year, which includes additional spending on infrastructure, and it should on every level of government. We have to recognize that. When you look at what situation we're in right now, we're in a period of time in which both our infrastructure and our economy is crumbling. That's happened before in America. At the height of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt responded to that with a WPA, which built infrastructure around this country that remains in place today, and it put people to work. I believe that's the sort of value we should bring to this. There's a lot that's been said about infrastructure and not a whole lot that really has been done.

NORRIS: Mayor, have there been other problems or reports that more than 1,000 pounds of concrete rained down from the underside of a 50-year-old bridge not too great a distance away from the bridge collapse, the span of I-35E?

Mayor RYBAK: There was an incident involving concrete falling from another bridge. There have been several other bridges in the state that have been closed due to either incidents or as precautionary measures. Mercifully, we have not had anything similar to this and we hope never to do that again. But I think while there is a significant body of information that's not answered out there, what is clear is that now, a year later, Minnesotans are, in taking the state, are really focused on the families that have been changed forever and how they had a great loss and how they became part of our community.

NORRIS: Mayor R.T. Rybak, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mayor RYBAK: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: And at our Web site, you can learn about bridges around the country, how they're inspected and how they're rated. That's at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.