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Oberstar, on House floor for transportation bill, tells of bridge tragedy

U.S. Rep Jim Oberstar was discussing a transportation bill on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives when the Interstate 35W bridge through Minneapolis collapsed shortly after 6 p.m. Oberstar apprised his colleagues of the situation.

U.S. Rep Jim Oberstar was discussing a transportation bill on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives when the Interstate 35W bridge through Minneapolis collapsed shortly after 6 p.m. Oberstar apprised his colleagues of the situation.

"This is a tragic occurrence and I make that observation ... as an indication of how important it is for us to continue our vigilance on the integrity and condition of the nation's traveled roadways," Oberstar said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar appeared on CNN to ask residents not to call 612 or 651 area codes, which serve the Twin Cities. Locally, some calls made with Cellular One and Verizon wireless providers did not go through.

The northbound lanes of I-35W had reopened July 30 after the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed them for a bridge rehabilitation project. It's not clear if this project contributed to the collapse.

The lefthand southbound lanes of the I-35W bridge were closed when Dan Moller, a technician in the information technology department of the News Tribune, crossed southbound around 12:30 p.m. He said the road was "torn up" and traffic had slowed to a walking pace.

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John Bray, a spokesman for MnDOT District 1, which covers Northeastern Minnesota, said nothing comparable to the I-35W collapse has ever happened here.

"We've never, ever had any bridge collapse ever," he said.

Bray said he could recall only one other bridge collapse incident in his career. In the late 1980s, the Lake Street Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed as it was being built.

Currently, there are two bridges in Northeastern Minnesota under construction. The 300-foot, 50-year-old bridge across the Kawishiwi River on Minnesota Highway 1 is being replaced, as is the Silverdale Bridge on Minnesota Highway 65 across the Little Fork River in Koochiching County. That bridge was 130 years old.

Amy Bauer, 22, of Eagan was about two blocks south of the I-35W bridge at 6:30 p.m. when she heard what happened.

"We saw just a ton of black smoke rising up from behind us," Bauer said. "The whole sky was turning darker. We just turned around and drove the other way."

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