The current Lake Street Bridge replaced the previous bridge, a wrought-iron span built in 1889. The previous bridge was the second-oldest bridge in use over the Mississippi, next to the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri (built in 1874). At the time, the Minneapolis Tribune opined that the new bridge was a "foolish extravagance," since there were already seven bridges over the river. However, the Lake Street Bridge became a major connection between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Before the construction of the freeway system, it carried U.S. Route 212 over the Mississippi River.
When construction on the new bridge started in 1989, the builders built the first half of the new bridge while keeping the old bridge in service. Unfortunately, an accident ended up delaying construction. The falsework for one of the arches collapsed, causing the arch itself to collapse and killing a construction worker. Later, when it came time to demolish the old bridge, crews tried to take it down with explosives, but the first effort didn't bring the bridge down. It took another, more powerful batch of explosives to bring the old bridge down a few weeks later.
The eight-lane bridge on Interstate 35W, part of a major artery between Minneapolis and St. Paul, was being repaired at the time, and a witness told MSNBC that he had heard a jackhammer being used on the roadway just before the collapse about 6 p.m. Central time. Witnesses said the bridge, which was built in 1967, collapsed in three sections, sending a plume of smoke 100 feet into the sky.
The collapsed section of the bridge, which was about 1,000 feet long, had been supported by a steel structure.
Divers and rescue boats continued to search the river and the twisted wreckage of the bridge, with darkness setting in and rain beginning to fall. The Minneapolis Star Tribune said some people were seen floundering in the river, calling for help.