In 1995, an estimated 50 people were killed when a bridge collapsed under heavy rain near Aflou, Algeria, and in the fall of 2005, six people were killed when a section of a highway bridge collapsed and plunged into a ravine in southern Spain.
According to the Center for International and Strategic Studies, more than a quarter of the country's 600,000 bridges are structurally unstable. A 2005 federal report stated that Minneapolis' Interstate 35W bridge, built in 1967 and supported by a single steel arch, was structurally deficient and may need to be repaired.
The fact that 27 percent of U.S. bridges are unstable "does not necessarily mean that any is near imminent failure," Casey Dinges, the managing director of external affairs for the American Society of Civil Engineers, said on "Good Morning America" today.
"Once a bridge has been designated to have problems, we keep a close eye on it," Dinges said.
Dinges said that despite this long history of bridge breakdowns and the ongoing tragedy in Minneapolis, nervous commuters "should not be overly concerned" about their local bridges collapsing. "People getting in their cars this morning should not be fearing for their lives," he said.
In a news conference today, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters emphasized that bridge collapses like the one in Minneapolis are a relative rarity and she pledged to make sure bridges across the country stay safe.
"Bridges in America should not fall down," she said. "We need to get down to the bottom of this and that is absolutely my top priority."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.