Survivors and others who requested pieces of battered steel from the fallen Interstate 35W bridge may get some help from the Legislature.
A bill introduced this week would authorize the Minnesota Department of Transportation to distribute remnant steel — free of charge — to the state’s Historical Society, survivors, federal and state agencies with responsibility for transportation safety, engineering schools and others, in that order of priority.
Any remaining pieces would be considered surplus property to be melted down and recycled, with proceeds going into the state general fund.
About 25 to 30 survivors of the Aug. 1, 2007, collapse had requested pieces of the bridge to put on shelves, set in memorial gardens or even destroy as a therapeutic measure.
Brent Olson, who has been organizing requests on behalf of fellow survivors, said he hadn’t heard about the bill, but he was pleased to know plans were moving forward.
“There’s several people that are looking at wanting to have something from it,” he said.
The Minnesota Historical Society would likely not want a giant piece, said Jennifer Jones, director of library and collections, but it might like to procure a gusset plate or other small piece to add to the items it already has from the bridge collapse, including the back door of the school bus.
“We’re looking for objects that help us tell the story,” Jones said. “I think it’s great that people are being history-minded about this.”
At least one university’s engineering department has requested a piece of the wreckage to incorporate into a ceremony intended to remind graduating students of their professional responsibilities.
MnDOT wanted to accommodate those requests, but officials there thought they may be legally obligated to sell scrap materials and put money back into the state budget. The bill, introduced this week by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, and Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, would allow the department to give away some bridge pieces before sending the rest away for recycling.
“It made sense,” Latz said. “It’s obviously significant for [survivors]. There isn’t any real reason why they shouldn’t have some of it.”
MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said his department worked to get the bill introduced so the requests could be accommodated. “It was a difficult, historic event,” he said. “It needs to be something that we remember, never forget.”