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Bad Vibrations

The ancient craft of bridge design still holds surprises

In the middle of rush hour on Aug. 1, at 6:04 p.m., traffic zoomed across the westbound span of the I-35 Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis. By 6:05, the 40-year-old structure had buckled and broken, dumping most of the bridge into the river and killing 13 people. Though it came as a shock, this was in retrospect an accident waiting to happen, experts say. The Minneapolis bridge had been poorly maintained, with cracks in its iron arches that had been patched up over the years. And the bridge's design lacked redundancy.

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