August 1st, 2008
11:57 AM ET

Fear of Bridges – Why aren't they fixed?

Program Note: CNN’s Campbell Brown investigates the nation's crumbling infrastructure in a special report, "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart." Special guests include California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Friday, 8 p.m. ET

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/01/art.vert.hospital.jpg caption="Mercedes Gorden in the hospital. She has had nine surgeries since the bridge collapse last year. " width=292 height=320]
Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent

When I came to Minneapolis a year ago to report on the collapse off the Interstate 35W bridge, it was still laying in the Mississippi River. Huge chunks of steel and concrete lay twisted in the water. The cause was found to be a design flaw. That bridge had been built in 1967.

Today, it is a different story. The new bridge spanning the Mississippi is nearly done, two months ahead of schedule. It is a concrete bridge that cost about $250 million to build. If it is done by September 15th, the contractor will get a bonus of $27 million. That’s the good news. The bad news is that many of the victims from that horrible day are still recovering. More than 145 people were injured when the bridge buckled, and 13 were killed. Some of the bodies weren’t found for weeks. Some of the survivors are still dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. They still have nightmares about falling off a bridge.

I spent some time yesterday with one survivor. Her name is Mercedes Gorden. She has had nine surgeries since the bridge collapse.

Her car plunged 60 feet nose first into the bridge support on the river bank. It took rescuers an hour to get her out. She had too many shattered bones to count and a fractured spine. She was in a back brace for months and is now an inch shorter than she used to be. She still walks with a limp. We walked over to the new bridge together and she shared some her story. She told me she has to drive by the site every week on her way to physical therapy. She’s angry more money wasn’t used to make sure this bridge was safe. It had been inspected just three months before its collapse, and the state’s Department of Transportation decided to keep inspecting it instead of fixing some off the flaws.

Mercedes says, “I say how did we get money for stadiums? How did we get money for all these new stadiums we’re building? There are a ton of projects, how did we get money for that? What’s more important baseball or safe traveling? Should we all be afraid every time we cross a bridge now? Should I be thinking I need to open a window in case I fall off a bridge? Is that the place that we’ve come to in America? Is that what it’s come to?”.

Today, Mercedes takes medication for anxiety and depression. She no longer dances like she used to and is looking to buy a one story house because she doesn’t negotiate steps very well. But in all honesty, Mercedes is one of the lucky ones. Even with all the pain and the scars, she survived a day that so many others did not. The state compensated victims with nearly $37 million dollars that they will share, but that doesn’t help the emotional scars. Mercedes isn’t going to let her fears stop her, though. She hopes to be one of the first people to drive over the new bridge. She wants to “get back on the horse” she says and face her fears from that day as soon as she can. She may have that chance come September, when the new bridge is expected to be finished.

Mercedes shared this picture of what remains the car she was in when the bridge collapsed.

Mercedes Gordon sent us this picture of her car, after the bridge collapsed.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Robert Miller

    Government's appropriate and necessary role is to fund large projects such as roads, bridges, dams, and the infrastructure that supports a modern industrial nation. Our country seems to have lost this concept in many respects since the 1960's and 70's when we polarized, politically, and divided the government's perceived role into two opposing slogans, e.g. "Tax and Spend" liberals; or "Free Market" Conservatism. Now, a few decades later, we have chaos - where political graft and corporation greed, result in ignoring the large projects that would keep our country operating and modern. Instead we spend huge resources around an idiologically driven war, earmarks for special interests and pay offs to foreign governments who are using us as the world's ATM machine. So, the Federal goverment's major role has become spinning facts, spending billions on wars and nation building while our own people live with failing bridges, insufficient levees, dikes that break, insecure borders, aging power grids, schools akin to reformatories, toxic stre or the eams and rivers, potholes, and gang-ridden decaying inner cities. The idiotic refrain of "letting people keep their money" has become the Republican ruse for hiding the fact that the government has no plan and no resources for infrastructure development and maintainence, while most Democratic politicians are clueless about what projects would be a priority for our national interests...(whatever that has become) - slogans and sound-bites rule while reality caves-in around us.

    August 3, 2008 at 12:10 pm |
  2. A.M. Deist

    Bridges aren't being fixed because all our money is going into Iraq and Afghanistan to fix their infrastructure, just like Aids isn't being addressed properly in America because most of the Aids money is going to Africa. What a bunch of idiots we are.

    August 1, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  3. Marylou Nelson

    The discussion really didn't focus on how much of that enormous 2005 highway spending bill was taken back from the states by the federal government diverting the funds to other programs, including military spending. So the comment that money for the aging infrastructure could benefit from less military spending in Iraq would seem to be accurate. There is an excellent interview with Amadeo Saenz, Executive Director of TxDOT, in January 2008 that explains how highway construction increased over 60% between 2002 and 2007. He explains that the Fed Government has taken back $666 million and the current appropriations will have an additional rescission of $250 to $260 million. It is no wonder the taxpayers are not seeing the infrastructure improvements that they thought they had paid for.

    August 1, 2008 at 10:33 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    I don't see how she survived after looking at the picture of her car. She was lucky on that aspect at least. I agree with her about how we use the money we pay in taxes – stadiums should be at the bottom of the priority list. Infrastructure repair and replacement should be at the top – our safety should always come before our entertainment.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 1, 2008 at 9:18 pm |
  5. William Courtland

    Infrastructure is the first duty of government. Roman Roads.

    If you build, build and keep you money internal, national, with domestic labor internal, trade and barter with true stock only when dealing internationally, assist a global (whole world) method of material grading and service payment, build to replace Oil with government infrastucture, replace power, mass telecommunications, and water shipment, build until the world is out of raw materials then keep building to reach those of the new harvesting yards: the solar system.

    Start small, raw materials belong to the world, but your service and the foodstuffs you can provide for it is all an economy needs.

    August 1, 2008 at 8:53 pm |
  6. Maggie Settle

    Why can't our government use our money the way we want it to be used. The first three words of the constition are WE THE PEOPLE we own our government and the president. Who ever wants to spend 3 TRILLION dollars on a war every day is insane!!!! While were spending all that money on war when we could be spending it on roads and our communities.

    August 1, 2008 at 7:52 pm |
  7. Sharon from Indy

    How many other bridges are at the "dropping point"?

    August 1, 2008 at 5:31 pm |
  8. John

    In Minnesota we can find tax dollars to build a new baseball stadium to keep the millionaire team owners happy, but we can't find the money to keep our taxpaying citizens safe from falling bridges. This is what's wrong with Minnesota and America...we have the wrong priorities. Transportation safety needs to come before entertainment...anyone should be able to figure that out.

    August 1, 2008 at 3:57 pm |
  9. Roadmaster

    I wish all the best for Mercedes – may she get back on the dance floor.

    Bottom line is pretty simple, though: deferred maintenance has its costs. To continue the "no new taxes" blindness – especially when businesses have profited from reliable highways – is political childishness at best; criminality at worst. The business community needs to buck up and pay up for public systems now, or it'll pay in delays and lawsuits down the road when inspection systems for highways, drugs, food, and water fail.

    And Joe, you're wrong. Most government workers DO have SSI deducted. Most of the people who do the actual government work are sickened – because they know what needs to be done, but are told by political hires over their heads to just shut up. And when folks DO blow the whistle, there's no support for them from the politicians who cry for "full and open disclosure."

    August 1, 2008 at 3:56 pm |
  10. Ashley H

    If the government wasn't so dense they could realize that the bridges are in trouble.So stop wasting money, and use it for something important!

    August 1, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  11. Joe

    Stop spending so much money on government saleries and retierment. They do not pay into ssi. they have their own retierment accounts. Most city managers make more than the president. Do not pay any of them more than three times min wage. Lets build America. Put the money into the privet sector building America and stop the wast. America is about letting the privet sector flurish. Not paying obeast people to have a commonunion to absorb all the money.

    August 1, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  12. Bob G

    I recently read where our government spent 2.3 billion dollars of our tax money to repair water and sewer lines in Iraq.
    It seems that with all that oil, Iraq coud maintain their own utilities.

    August 1, 2008 at 12:54 pm |