Symbol arises out of 35W bridge collapse

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune staff writer
  • Updated: September 9, 2010 - 8:36 PM

The memorial garden to the I-35W bridge disaster will feature a water wall and 13 I-beams.

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For Justina Hausmann, the Remembrance Garden honoring victims and survivors of the I-35W bridge collapse will be a way for the community to honor her father's final act -- trying to help another victim escape a car at the bottom of the Mississippi River.

It will also show that "something beautiful can come out of something so tragic," Hausmann said on Thursday at a news conference to unveil plans for the newly designed memorial.

Hausmann was one of several survivors and relatives of victims who attended the somber event on the Minneapolis riverfront near the site of the 2007 disaster.

The memorial should be finished and dedicated next Aug. 1, the fourth anniversary of the collapse, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board still has to approve the final design, but Rybak noted that parks officials have been "wonderfully cooperative" in providing a site.

Thirteen people were killed and 145 injured in the collapse. The memorial, backed by $1.5 million from a recent $52.4 million court settlement, will be located on a patch of river bluff parkland across the street from Gold Medal Park, about a quarter mile upstream from the new 35W bridge.

The project, designed by Minneapolis landscape architect Tom Oslund, who also designed Gold Medal Park, will stretch for 81 feet along the sidewalk and bike path alongside W. River Parkway -- the distance signifying the 8/1 date of the bridge collapse.

It will feature a row of 13 vertical steel I-beams, each dedicated to one of the victims and including a personal tribute written by the victim's relatives in their own language -- six languages in all, Oslund noted. Another key feature will be a stone wall with water flowing over the names of the 145 survivors of the collapse.

It also will include benches and a walkway to a river overlook. The 13 I-beams will be lit blue at night, tying in with the blue lights on the new bridge as well as the blue of the nearby Guthrie Theater.

The memorial was originally planned for Gold Medal Park, but ownership and leasing problems forced a relocation across the street.

The project "has taken sustained compassion," Rybak said. "It's a symbol that Minnesotans don't forget."

The cost of construction is unclear, said mayoral aide John Stiles, and some of the $1.5 million will be reserved for maintenance. Fundraising, which had lagged before the recent $1.5 million infusion, could continue, Stiles added.

Asked what the most powerful feature would be to her, Lindsay Petterson of Minneapolis said, "The entirety of it, and the thoughtfulness, and the way our voices were heard."

Those who spoke Thursday emphasized how the memorial will be as much for the community as for their own reflection and healing. "I hope we remember the light amid the darkness of that day,'' said Petterson, 27, who plunged into the river in her car and suffered a fractured vertebra.

Thursday's unveiling coincided with the beginning of the removal of the steel bridge wreckage that has been stored on the riverbank downstream. A truck carrying pieces of that debris turned a nearby corner as Thursday's press conference was wrapping up. "I thought it was appropriate," said Bob Espeseth, whose brother-in-law died in a truck fire on the bridge. "It was like we were all moving on."

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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