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Wobbly New Thames Bridge

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Okay, who can shed some light on this one?
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Updated 11:54 AM ET June 13, 2000


LONDON (Reuters) - London bridge is falling down.

Well, not quite.  But Britain's feted Millennium Bridge, built to form a
"blade of light" across the capital's mighty River Thames, has got a serious
case of the shakes.  

And Britons are not amused.

"Sad, isn't it?" was the Daily Mirror's reaction to news that the slender
steel structure designed by leading architect Norman Foster and built by
engineers Ove Arup has been closed just two days after its already delayed
official opening.

The 320-meter long footbridge linking St Paul's Cathedral to the new Tate
Modern art gallery, was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth last month and opened
to the public on Saturday.  It swayed violently when the first pedestrians
strolled across it on a breezy but far from blustery summer's day.  By
Monday the Millennium Bridge Trust had caved in and said it was closing the
18 million pound ($27 million) bridge "for weeks" to investigate and correct
the swinging issue.

British newspapers had fun with the puns, with phrases like "winds of
change," "shaken but not stirred" and "a bridge too far" peppering editorial
pages.  Commentators bemoaned the ghost of failure which haunts so many of
London's Millennium projects.

BRIDGE BLAME GAME

The 758 million pound ($1.15 billion) Millennium Dome is now being kept
afloat by government subsidies, the giant London Eye ferris wheel was not
ready for passengers on January 1, and the "river of fire" overture to the
Millennium night fireworks simply failed to light.

"Like the famed 'river of fire' that never ignited, the 'blade of light' has
not quite cut the mustard," wailed the capital's Evening Standard newspaper.
"When one damn thing follows another with the regularity we have seen in
London over the millennial celebrations, the choice is between seeing these
mishaps as awful auguries for the unfolding age, or seeing the humorous side
of it," it added.

But the serious task was asking who was to blame for the wobbly bridge.

Not me, said architect Norman Foster who told the Daily Telegraph the fault
was "an engineering issue."

Not me, said Culture Secretary and chairman of the Millennium Commission
Chris Smith, whose office told Reuters that no apology would be made.  "The
bridge has encountered some technical problems, but they will be sorted out
and then London will have its bridge," a commission spokeswoman said.

The spotlight inevitably fell on the engineers Ove Arup, whose chairman Tony
Fitzpatrick was forced to admit that he and his company were "very
embarrassed" by the closure.  But even though no one will cross it for the
foreseeable future, and some of those who did complained of sea-sickness,
Fitzpatrick told the Evening Standard it was "fantastic" that London boasted
"the slenderest suspension bridge in the world."

The irony in his appeal for patience was not missed.

"Just hang on and it will be fine," he said.