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American Voices: Garrett Ebling

Garrett Ebling’s world literally came crashing down when the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge that he was traveling on collapsed on August 1, 2007.

Five years later, Ebling has made a full physical recovery and has written an aptly-named memoir, “Collapsed,” about his slow and painful journey from the wreckage. For Ebling, his harrowing experience is proof that infrastructure investments in the U.S. should be a priority.

Life before the bridge collapse was a very exciting time. I had just gotten engaged four days before that. It was a special day at work because we were going to have an outing with our department. So after the — after the zoo — we went to a restaurant and had drinks and hors d’oeuvres. So it was at that point where we all went our separate ways.

Crossing the 35W Bridge was not a normal route for me. I had probably crossed that bridge maybe three or four times in my life prior to that. The point where I really noticed that something had gone awry was when all of the cars in front of me flashed their brake lights at the same time. And then, the next second, all those cars just dropped — dropped into an abyss. And that next second, I started feeling weightlessness in my car as the bridge was breaking up underneath me. My car fell about 110 feet.

After I arrived at the hospital and the first surgery began, they put me in a medically induced coma. I was in that coma from August 1st until August 19th. During that time, I had about a half dozen surgeries to help correct a litany of things that went wrong.

The hardest part about all of this is knowing that this tragedy was completely preventable. And for whatever reason, reasons we may never know, the state decided to not do anything.

I think infrastructure needs to be a priority because safety has to be a priority. While this was a very rare event here in the United States, we should never want to have to get to the point where something collapses and people have to die for us to go, oh, maybe this needs to be a priority. We can’t fix everything at one time. We know we are a nation of incredible debt right now. I think we need to be — get creative in how we fund infrastructure because the resources are limited.

But I think for politicians to really make a dent in infrastructure improvements starts with cities and counties looking at their roads and their bridges and their railways and making determinations on what can be done to improve the safety of those things. So I think if you go from sort of a bottom-up approach to it, I think that improving the infrastructure is a real possibility in this country.