Early in the morning of June 28th, 1983, at around 1:30 am, a 100-foot span of Interstate 95 in Greenwich collapsed into the Mianus River. It was one of the most infamous American bridge disasters of the 20th century. Three people died and three more were seriously injured, when a car and two tractor-trailers careened over the edge. The death toll would no doubt have been exponentially higher had the collapse happened during rush hour, as that stretch of I-95 was then (and remains now) one of the most heavily traveled highway corridors in the United States.
Subsequent investigations found the immediate cause of the Mianus River bridge collapse was two corroded support pins; however, years of deferred maintenance and systematic neglect were the true culprit. People were shocked to discover that the 25-year-old bridge had passed a routine Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection only nine months before. Moreover, in the days just prior to the collapse, local residents had complained about an ominous increase in strange noises and vibrations coming from the bridge, but no action had been taken.
For months after the disaster, tens of thousands of vehicles that traveled I-95 daily had to be diverted onto Route 1 in Greenwich, clogging local roads throughout the region as crews worked to get the bridge back in service. In July, the temporarily repaired structure was reopened to light vehicle traffic, but buses and trucks had to wait to access the bridge until full repairs were completed in September.
The Mianus River bridge collapse spurred drastic changes in how highway bridges were constructed. Builders were required to incorporate multiple redundancies into their designs so that the failure of a single feature (e.g. a support pin) would not cause a collapse. Still, transportation advocates worried about today’s ongoing budget-related deferred infrastructure maintenance often point to the Mianus bridge collapse as an ominous warning of the potential consequences for America’s roadways.
1983 footage of the Mianus River bridge collapse from Connecticut news affiliate WTNH.
Karen Frederick and Anne Young, “Mianus River Bridge Collapses,” connecticuthistory.org
Bill Cummings, “Then and Now: I-95’s Mianus River Bridge Collapse,” Greenwich Times
Martin B. Cassidy, “Lessons of Mianus River Bridge Not Yet Learned,” Stamford Advocate