Couldn’t See See That One Coming

35W Bridge Memorial vandalized two days after opening:

Construction worker Rob Bailey went to the Mississippi River on Monday evening, as he had every Aug. 1 for the previous three years, to remember his co-worker and friend Greg “Jolly” Jolstad.

He watched as a new memorial to the 35W bridge collapse was unveiled about a quarter-mile upstream from the site of the tragedy.

“I go down there to pray every year at 6:05 p.m.,” said Bailey, who had just stepped off the bridge moments before it collapsed.

Two days after making his pilgrimage, he was stunned to hear that the memorial had been vandalized, with 22 stainless steel letters ripped out of a message affixed to the memorial’s granite wall.

The vandals in the Twin Cities are getting out of control.

On the one hand, it’s just plain depressing.

On the other hand, it’s tempting to buy two walls on a high-vandalism street, like University or Lake or whatever.  Paint them both a pristine white.  Post one of them “Free Public Graffiti Mural”, and the other one “No Graffiti”.  See how many people go out of the way to deface the “No Graffiti” wall.

And maybe taze them.

Home

Home.

It’s one of the most powerful words in the English language.

And it’s one of the most powerful feelings there is – as an observer or as a participant.

The soldier returns home.  The young runaway comes back to home and family.  The prodigal son walks back up the sidewalk.

But…er…this?

With bright white lights, a hushed atmosphere and chunks of steel twisted into impossible shapes, it feels more like a museum than a garage.

A hometown National Guard unit, back from Afghanistan, meets its family at the armory?

An unjustly-imprisoned man is released to his family in the garage of the courthouse?

But it is the new home for crucial remnants of the old Interstate 35W bridge.

Oh.

I mean, looking for a local angle is part and parcel of what the news business does.  I know that.  But wreckage?

The piece in the Strib is called “Remnants of 35W Bridge Come Home” or some such.

The story is actually interesting, if you have any interest in engineering, the law, forensic sciences and the like:

The bridge’s many pieces are all in Minnesota again — now that the National Transportation Safety Board has returned the parts it needed for its investigation. The bridge parts arrived from the East Coast over the weekend and are being housed in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakdale built especially for that purpose. There the parts will be protected from wind and water so that lawyers and engineers can examine them for the many lawsuits related to the bridge’s collapse.

All well and good – and useful news.

But is it just me, or is that just about the longest stretch to imbue sentiment into a story that we’ve ever seen?

Golden Gatekeeping

The San Francisco Bay Bridge is closed while engineers fix a cracked “eyebar” – a structural member that transfers weight to the main supports.

Here’s hopeing they do a good job of it.

Or at least, let’s hope they do a better job than the reporters who are writing about it.  Because since the 35W River Bridge collapsed, it seems everyone is a structural engineer.

Eyebars are known to suffer from fatigue cracks.

The same design was used in the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed in 2007 and killed five people.

Well, maybe in the same sense that both bridges had roads running over them.  The 35W bridge was a conventional arch-truss bridge with, to the best of my knowledge, no eyebars; the Bay Bridge is a combination of trusses and a suspension bridge.  Completely different structures.

But other than that

And while normally I’d point out that the collapse killed thirteen people, I’m assuming the other eight disappeared due to California’s taxing and spending.

Loose Ends

I was glad to see that the families of the 35W bridge collapse victims Enixed the idea of a formal memorial service to commemorate Saturday’s second anniversary of the disaster:

Officials wisely decided not to hold a public ceremony today — the second anniversary of the collapse — saying relatives of the victims and others tied to the event wanted to move on with their lives. They should have that opportunity.

Of course, there are some loose ends that do need to get cleaned up.

The Strib gets one of them right:

So, too, should the entire community be able to reclaim Bohemian Flats and to drive along the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis without being reminded of the horror of August 2007, when 13 people lost their lives a few hundred yards upstream.

The Flats are still being used to store all the steel wreckage from the salvage job; the various lawyers involved in the slew of lawsuits filed over the collapse (last Friday was the deadline for actions) want all the old girders preserved in case they need them.

Of course, the Strib missed one big mess of wreckage;the credibility of not a few local politicians and, lest we forget, the Strib itself.ater on Tim Pawlenty’s refusal to raise the gas tax?  When some backroom political flak literally claimed that the entire MNGOP should be indicted for murder?
Remember when Nick Coleman not only blamed the Taxpayers League, but haughtily blew off the National Transportation Safety Board’s initial findings when they disagreed with him?

None of them have copped to their ghoulish hijacking of a tragedy for their own gain.

Where is the decency?

Grasshoppers 700,000,000, Ants 0

In the wake of Minneapolis’ 35W bridge disaster – which occured two years ago tomorrow – Democrats nationwide use the tragedy as yet another reason to call for more taxes, to pay for more “infrastructure” spending.

Minnesota DFLers used the tragedy as an occasion to pillory Governor Pawlenty – in some particularly ghoulish cases, even before the last girder had fallen into the river – for having vetoed a hike in the state gas tax, and for having taken and held to a “no new taxes” pledge five years earlier, during his nomination process.

In response, many of us asked, hypothetically, “if the DFL had had complete control of the state for the past ten  years – if Skip Humphrey had beaten Jesse Ventura and Norm Coleman – do you homestly believe they’d have spent that time and money doing the unglamorous, tedious, exquisitely expensive work of going and inspecting and repairing old infrastructure (or not-so-old infrastructure – the 35W bridge was half the age of the bridges up and downstream from it) rather than more-visible work, like building light rail and more roads?”

We were, of course, absolutely correct:

Tens of thousands of unsafe or decaying bridges carrying 100 million drivers a day must wait for repairs because states are spending stimulus money on spans that are already in good shape or on easier projects like repaving roads, an Associated Press analysis shows.President Barack Obama urged Congress last winter to pass his $787 billion stimulus package so some of the economic recovery money could be used to rebuild what he called America’s “crumbling bridges.” Lawmakers said it was a historic chance to chip away at the $65 billion backlog of deficient structures, often neglected until a catastrophe like the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed two years ago this Saturday.

The lesson?  Raising taxes and assuming that Democrats will use the money to pay for maintenance is like giving a teenager a credit card to buy school supplies.

Our Clairvoyant Overlords

Last weekend, JRoosh greeted the news of the NTSB’s draft report on the 35W Bridge collapse appropriately, noting that – at least in the context of the chorus of recrimination that the likes of E-Tink and Alice “The Phantom” Hausman and Margaret Kelliher and Nick Coleman dumped on him – the Governor was exonerated.

When Jeff Rosenberg at The Daily Liberal noted that Sporty the Dog from Clicking Stool had “taken Roosh to task” over his piece, naturally, I had to check it out.

As with most leftybloggers attempts to discuss history, engineering and other more-or-less empirical subjects, it was a big mistake.

Leftybloggers, like the political and media leaders whose shrieking points so many of them so unthinkingly ape, aren’t big on getting context right.  Sporty tries to frame the issue in the form of a doctor’s visit, and concludes:

The article in the Strib that J refers to is in the paper today. The headline? I-35W bridge was doomed from the start. It was a design defect!

We are, of course, all doomed from the start. But that doesn’t means we don’t get physicals, submit to humiliating examinations, and pay the medical profession to try to keep us healthy.

In the case of the bridge, the Pawlenty administration also fingered the whopper, got the test results, and opted for the cosmetic solution.

Except that there was no “doctor’s visit” saying that the bridge, as in Sporty’s example, was terminally ill.  To run with the (bad, misplaced) metaphor, there were merely checkups, telling the bridge, like a lot of 40-year-olds, that it was crumbling around the edges a bit; that the wear and tear of daily stress was taking its toll.  The bridge at 40 was doing better than some other bridges – MNDoT rated the Cayuga and Lafayette bridges, among others in the metro, much worse as of July 31, 2007, much more likely to die younger than the 35W bridge.  Not that it was especially more terminally ill than any other bridge of its age. 

The fact is, nobody knew 40 years ago – or two years ago, for that matter – that the bridge was suffering from anything much worse than…being a 40 year old bridge.  Yes, there were concerns – rusty gussets, suspect piers, etc.  But the thing that killed it – mistakes in engineering calculations?  That was a bolt from the blue – an undetected aneurism or clot or stroke that could have been found, maybe, given one of two things:

  • A degree of dedication to checking and re-checking design assumptions, calculations and material specs from every potentially suspect bridge in the state (read:  every bridge in the state), aggressively trying to predict the unpredictable.
  • Clairvoyance.

Going back and checking over all of those designs, all of their engineering and data – especially those made in the era before all of these things were done electronically - would be analogous to spending every morning for months at a time at the doctor’s office, getting prodded and poked and having latex-clad fingers shoved hither and yon by a staff of doctors dedicated to eradicating every possible “what if” in your physiology – and it’d be about as proportionally expensive.

As far as clairvoyance goes – if government could manage that, would our mortgage system be in the mess it’s in today?

To have done something about the 35W bridge’s problems, there would have had to have been a huge effort to go back and re-examine the design of every element of the construction of these bridges; the calculations behind the design of each structural member (hundreds or thousands for each structure), their material specs and various rates of deterioration – all of which, by the way, requires a LOT of reconstructive research, since the original calculations and material specs may or may not be available.  It’d be the equivalent of having a squad of doctors trying to rule out every possible malady you could have.

Think your HMO would cover that?

This hideously expensive process, by the way, would take a LOT of money away from every political body’s main goal in transportation spending; building monuments to the perspicacity of the politicans authorizing the spending. Building trains sends tingles up DFLers legs; lane miles do the same for Republicans. Watching hordes of engineers poring over moldy blueprints and Material Data sheets is no monument to anyone.  It’s just maintenance.

The conclusion?  Well, other than “never pay attention to leftybloggers when they try to talk history, science, engineering, or…well, really, anything”, I guess it’s this…

…well, no.  That kinda covered it.

Clawing Our Way Out Of The Memory Hole

About a ten months or so ago, give or take a few weeks, I wrote a brief to-do list to remind me of what needed to be done in re the sorting out of the 35W Bridge collapse.

Among the reminders:

Item #3: Await apology from Nick Coleman: After all, before they’d even found all the submerged cars, the Non-Monkey had blamed Pawlenty, the GOP and the Taxpayers’ League, and the “failure” to raise the Gas Tax, for the disaster, all but accusing them of complicity in murder.

Item #4: Await same from Alice Hausman: The famous truck was still engulfed in flames when Alice “The Phantom” Hausman, Tic from Saint Paul, Chairbeing of the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, and subject of an unseemly Lori Sturdevant girl crush, went on WCCO Radio and blamed the disaster on taxes.

Item #5: Await More Of Same From Elwyn Tinklenberg: Elwin “E-Tink” Tinklenburg, Transportation Commissioner for DFL-Lite “Independence” Party governor Jesse “The Stealth Tic” Ventura, and perennial Tic candidate for higher office (he’s been pondering running against Michele Bachmann since before Rep. Bachmann was actually elected) did pretty much the same.

The NTSB has released their draft report on the causes of the 35W Bridge Collapse. The forty-year-old freeway bridge – which collapsed on August 1 of last year, killing 13 – collapsed because:

Original designers of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis likely neglected to calculate the size of key gusset plates that eventually failed, a human mistake that culminated 40 years later when 13 people died after the span collapsed, federal safety investigators have found.

They also have determined that corrosion of certain gusset plates, extreme heat and shifting piers did not contribute to the bridge’s collapse on Aug. 1, 2007, according to sources with direct knowledge of the probe. In three weeks, investigators will present their findings to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which will publicly review the draft report in a hearing Nov. 13 at the board’s Washington headquarters. After that, the board will use the draft as the basis for its final report on the probable cause of the collapse and recommendations for preventing future disasters.

In other words, the mistake was made on the drawing board, during the Johnson Administration.

So let’s revisit this:

How about you, Elwin “E-Tink” Tinklenburg? Before the last bubble leaked to the surface of the Mississippi River that tragic evening, you were on WCCO blaming Tim Pawlenty for the collapse – albeit silent as a ghost about your own record as Minnesota’s Transportation Commissioner under Jesse “The Punchline” Ventura, where you found the money to build an absurd trolley but precious little for actually maintaining things.

Explanation, E-Tink?

How about you, DFLers; Margaret Kelliher certainly had you all chanting in unison about this time a year ago. Any second thoughts about not only politicizing a lethal tragedy, but being wrong about it?

Eight District Representative Jim Oberstar, who – when the first intimations came out that this was likely an engineering disaster rather than a political one – turned his boundless pettifogging clout to trying to intimidate the NTSB into finding at least some partisan political points for him? Any response?

Alice Hausman – DFL Transportation Committee chairwoman who was on the air with T-Tink before the sun set that night, and who spent the coming weeks figuratively carrying tar and feathers for Tim Pawlenty, Marty Seifert and David Strom? Any second thoughts?

And above all, Nick Coleman. Nick, who went on the air live from the banks of the Mississippi three days after the disaster to blame tax cuts for the tragedy;

Nick, who tittered like a schoolgirl when the first, preliminary word came out that it was a gusset problem.

E-Tink, Alice and Nick; science has crushed your febrile attempts to politicize this tragedy. And before the memory hole claims your loathsome little outburst, I thought I’d take a shot at asking.

Governor Pawlenty Exonerated

So the veto of the gas tax didn’t result in the 35W bridge collapse?

My esteemed overlord hates to say “I told you so.”

Allow me.

Mitch told you so.

Number 1:  When the engineers finally release their report about what actually caused the 35W Bridge Collapse, a lot of regional lefties – Elwyn Tinklenberg, Rep. Alice Hausman, Nick Coleman and others among them - are going to owe the Governor, Lt. Gov/Transportation Commissioner Molnau, the Taxpayers’ League and the “hold the line on taxes” crowd – a lot of apologies for a lot of defamation.

Number 2: None of them will actually give those apologies.

Nick Coleman’s article of August 2nd is no longer linkable. But here are excerpts of Nick’s rabid blather at the time from Roosh Five:

The death bridge was “structurally deficient,” we now learn, and had a rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were all the other way.

There isn’t any bigger metaphor for a society in trouble than a bridge falling, its concrete lanes pointing brokenly at the sky, its crumpled cars pointing down at the deep waters where people disappeared.

Nick Coleman: Drama Queen. Hack Journalist. Dead Wrong.

Only this isn’t a metaphor.

But when you have a tragedy on this scale, it isn’t just concrete and steel that has failed us.

In a word, it was avoidable.

For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It’s been popular with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase – the first in 20 years – last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road repair. And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone through, because we are years behind a dangerous curve when it comes to the replacement of infrastructure that everyone but wingnuts in coonskin caps agree is one of the basic duties of government.

I’m not just pointing fingers at Pawlenty. The outrage here is not partisan. It is general.

At the federal level, the parsimony is worse, and so is the negligence. A trillion spent in Iraq, while schools crumble, there aren’t enough cops on the street and bridges decay while our leaders cross their fingers and ignore the rising chances of disaster.

I-35W bridge was doomed from the start

Investigators will say the blame lies with designers who erred in calculating the size of key gusset plates, sources say.

Original designers of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis likely neglected to calculate the size of key gusset plates that eventually failed, a human mistake that culminated 40 years later when 13 people died after the span collapsed, federal safety investigators have found.

They also have determined that corrosion of certain gusset plates, extreme heat and shifting piers did not contribute to the bridge’s collapse on Aug. 1, 2007, according to sources with direct knowledge of the probe.

Elwyn Tinklenberg, Rep. Alice Hausman, Nick Coleman will undoubtedly not be reachable for comment. Mr. Coleman’s resume can probably be found on Monster.com.

Form Follows Function

As my son and I traversed the new 35W Bridge a couple weeks ago, we noticed wavy concrete sculptures marking the boundaries of the span.

I’m not an art critic but I know it when I see it and this aint it. The objects sit awkwardly on the center divider. While their fabrication in concrete lends to the aura of fortitude that is reassuring while crossing the mighty Miss on a bridge where one once ceased, the lack of contrast is uninspiring. The objects look to have been tacked on as an afterthought.

As it turns out, their purpose may be less about pleasing the eye and more about saving us from less than optimally oxidized particles.

the new sculptures are made from a type of concrete that is photocatalytic, meaning they will be able to convert gases like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide to higher oxidized states, making them less damaging to the environment. Another benefit of the new concrete mixture is that it never looks old as it maintains a white oxidized color on its outer skin.

This is the same process used by a catalytic converter in automobiles.

The monuments were designed using the international cartographic symbol for water.

Many thanks for the definition of photocatalytic. I might otherwise have thought it described an object, once viewed, that induces discomfort in the right brain. I sit corrected.

And, Of Course, It Was A Year Ago Today…

…that the 35W Bridge collapsed.

The city is having all sorts of memorials today

In a typical year, I’d drive across that bridge maybe 3-4 times. I was in Fridley at a meeting with my son, at one of their rec centers.

As we walked out, I saw the TV tuned to Channel 5, and noticed what looked like a flattened bridge. It took a few moments to register that it was in Minneapolis; my first clue was “there’s no way these people would ever watch the news”, which led me to look more closely and notice which bridge it actually was.

On the drive home, I got probably half a dozen calls from friends and relatives.

And I didn’t go to the scene until late June.

Tomorrow and Monday, I have some questions to ask.

Today, I’ll just hope and pray that the families of the dead and injured can find some peace and comfort, and to thank the rescue workers and citizens on the scene who helped prevent a much worse tragedy.

A Pox On Those Who Let The Infrastructure Crumble!

According to the Strib, the NTSB has found some new evidence about the 35W Bridge collapse – and it’s not all about the gussets:

The National Transportation Safety Board has not ruled out the possibility that Minnesota transportation officials missed a potential clue to the impending failure of the Interstate 35W bridge, NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said Monday.

One year after the structure collapsed, killing 13 people, the federal agency is still studying whether photos of critical gusset plate connections taken by inspectors in 1999 should have prompted MnDOT to take action, Rosenker said. The photos showed bowing or warping of the plates.

Damn you, Carol Molnau!  A Pox upon you, Tim Pawlenty!  Curse you, David Strom and all you tax hawks, for letting the bridge collapse to save a buck!

CORRECTION:  I’m informed that none of the above were in office in  1999.

In 1999, MNDoT was run by this currently DFL-endorsed candidate for Congress; the one that was on WCCO as the last cars were settling into the river, blaming…

…well, see above.

I regret the confusion.

Connected

Something I missed in the crush of events this past week: the north and south banks of the Mississippi are connected again:

Image is from the MNDoT webcam.

You don’t want to drive on it yet, naturally – but last Wednesday, the contractors did the final pour to connect the main segments of the northbound span.

The southbound span should be getting connected any day now. Expect an angry column from Nick Coleman blaming Governor Pawlenty for the delay.

From The Rubble

This pic from the Daily Digital is pretty amazing:

The Daily Digital’s been covering the construction of the new 35W Bridge since the beginning.  It’s been interesting all along; from the beginnings, watching the casting yards and other infrastructure getting built, through all the work to get the piers and foundations and approaches done. 

And above it all, this last few weeks – as the actual span has virtually leaped across the river – have been just amazing.

Sometimes I’m Astounded…

…by the progress they’re making on the rebuilding of the 35W Bridge.  Reportedly, the builders could  have the spans joined together (although still months away from traffic-ready) by July 4. 

Downtown, looking west.  The south (left) and north (right) approaches are at the bottom of the picture.

Daily Digital has been covering the progress, with photos and weekly updates of the various engineering and fabrication accomplishments.

Rust On His Hands

I talked about this Strib story on the NARN last weekend; the chorus of calumny over the state of the Minnesota Department of Transportation seems to stop, like one of those mediaval maps of the world, at the edge of…the Pawlenty Administration.  To hear the left’s howling and baying, you’d think that MNDoT was an elite body with a decades-long record of excellence at transportation engineering that was only interrupted by Tim Pawlenty and David Strom.

Not so, of course.  Minnesota’s transportation system bears clogged, congested, poorly-engineered witness to decades of MNDoT’s dubious command of its subject.  The urban highway system funnels into several “commons” areas, where freeways merge and cross in arrangements that seem designed to create road rage (94/35W in downtown Minneapolis; 35W and Crosstown 62 in Richfield; 35E and 94 in downtown Saint Paul; 35E and 694 in Little Canada).  Many freeways were built with “forced exit” lanes – lanes with the dreaded yellow “exit only” signs, which force traffic to merge in on itself for no real reason (and which MNDoT has been trying to un-build, at dizzying cost, for decades). 

And of course, the bridges in Saint Cloud and Winona and of course downtown Minneapolis?  They didn’t start rusting until Inauguration Day, 2003, to hear the local left. 

Prominent among them was Elwin “E-Tink” Tinklenberg, a DFLer who was Jesse Ventura’s Transportation Commissioner until 2002.  Last August 1, as the last of the girders were still falling into the Mississippi River, he went on WCCO with DFLer Alice Hausman to blame the “No New Taxes” pledge for the collapse – likely before the NTSB investigators had even booked their tickets to Minneapolis. 

Why was he yelling so loudly?  Why so early?

Andy Aplikowski at RezFor covered it this morning as well:

Don’t let the media gloss over the fact that El Tinklenberg, who is running for Congress against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R MN6), was the MNDOT Commissioner under Gov. Jesse Ventura. Yes, he was in charge of Minnesota’s transportation system, including the 35W bridge. No Carol Molnau has not been the only person ever to hold that position, and see reports on the critical nature of the bridge. 

(STRIB) Seven years before the Interstate 35W bridge fell, a consulting firm sent Minnesota officials a proposal to shore up the aging structure that included examining its gusset plates — the connections that federal investigators now believe likely played a role in the collapse.

The preliminary plan from HNTB Corp. of Kansas City, which was buried among hundreds of documents released at a recent legislative hearing, has gone largely unnoticed in the debate over the disaster. The company did its study at no cost in an attempt to gain a state contract for the bridge work but, in the end, wasn’t hired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

A series of follow-up memos in 2000 and 2001 featured drawings of how HNTB planned to strengthen areas immediately surrounding the gusset plates and included renderings of “supplemental plates” and a “new oversize gusset.” Other drawings called for adding supplemental supports in the vicinity of the gusset plates.

El Tinklenberg, was MNDOT Commissioner at the time this proposal was denied. 

So let me get this straight; E-Tink presided over transportation in an administration that governed for four mostly-prosperous years – indeed, one that squandered billions in surpluses on new spending – and yet built almost no new roads, did very little bridge maintenance work, and whizzed $700,000,000 down a rathole building a train from the Mall to downtown.  Tinklenberg, indeed, did almost nothing in office…

…but was on the air while rescuers were still pulling people from the river to blame Pawlenty?

Hm.

So I Won’t Call Him A Hero, Then

The Strib reports – belatedly – the story of Matthew Miller.

Miller was one of the heretofore unsung citizen-rescuers who saved so many when the 35W bridge collapsed. As fast as the police and fire departments responded, the people on the scene were faster – and Miller was right there:

Miller turned — and saw nothing, except dust and smoke.

“After about a minute, I realized there was no more bridge. So then I went from chaos mode to panic.”

Miller worked his way down into the river gorge, across train tracks and woods, to where a huge canopy of highway was resting at a sharp angle.

He jumped down an 8-foot embankment, grabbing a tree branch to break his fall.

“There were screams, blood, everything was down there. … I didn’t even know where the heck I was running. I just kept on running.”

Then he got to the place he calls Ground Zero. “There was eight lanes of concrete hanging 15 feet above me.”

In an instant, he found himself praying. “I said, ‘God, help me not to focus on that piece of concrete, that piece of highway hanging above my head.’ From there, I didn’t look up.”

Miller started getting people out of cars that had come crashing down with the bridge. “Everybody that I helped was alive, though more than one with their eyes rolling into the backs of their heads,” he said.

Among the first people Miller found was a woman trapped in a car upside down. He crawled into the car and ripped out the head rests so she could be pulled out through the back seat.

Strangely, she was calm. “She was very uncomfortable, I could tell,” Miller said. “But she was more calm than I was.”

And now, seven months later?

Miller’s feat, although acknowledged by Minneapolis police, came to public light only last week, when the Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that he is a finalist for its first Above & Beyond Citizen Honors for unsung heroes.

The award, to be presented by retired Gen. Colin Powell on March 25, would be the first national recognition for any rescuer in the Aug. 1 bridge collapse, which took the lives of 13 people. Among those who died: Miller’s co-worker Greg Jolstad, who had been joking with him hours before.

“I’m not really a big hero. I don’t need to have that label,” said Miller, a senior at Bethel University in Arden Hills.

Fair enough. But kudos, and thanks, anyway.

Words Mean What Jim Oberstar Says They Mean

An emailer notes that Jim Oberstar is going to provide cover for the Tics and their premature indictment of the Taxpayers League, the Governor and the Incredible Stable Gas Tax for the collapse of the 35W River Bridge.

He  points us to this article in the Strib (emphases added):

Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar, chairman of the
House Transportation Committee, fired off a critical
letter to the head of the National Transportation
Safety Board
(NTSB) on Wednesday, saying it was
“highly inappropriate” for him to dismiss corrosion
and poor maintenance as possible causes for the
Interstate 35W bridge collapse
.”

Seems to me that Oberstar is pressuring the NTSB to
make sure that their final conclusion includes some
mention of corrosion or maintenance. 

If the facts don’t support you, argue the law (of physics); if the law of physics doesn’t uspport you, argue the facts.  If the facts and the law are against you, argue like hell.

Call it “trying to create reasonable doubt” – although the doubts Oberstar is trying to create are in no way reasonable.  Bridges don’t fall because of ethical lapses or political choices or semiotic miscues; they fall due to ineluctible failures in material or design.   

Back to Oberstar:

“The board has not determined whether the design of
the plates was the primary cause of the accident
compared to other possible causes such as corrosion
and poor maintenance,”

His earlier statements just after the NTSB press
conference also imply he’s expecting different results
in the final version.  Oberstar is the head of the
transportation committee which has over site of the
NTSB.

In other words, Oberstar would seem to be playing to the nutroots; people who’ll believe any crap you shove in front of them. 

Read and decide for yourself:  here’s the transcript of the NTSB press conference.  See what references to maintenance or corrosion or gas taxes you can find coming from the engineers who contributed to the findings, so far.

The emailer notes:

At no time does the NTSB claim to know the
cause of the bridge collapse.  The purpose of the
press conference is to issue a “safety recommendation”
to the Federal Highway Administration with regards to
re-performing bridge design calculations.

NTSB safety advisory report (not a preliminary report)

and here if you’re a bridge engineer.

The emailer also directs us to this bit on Rep. Oberstar’s website, and this quote:

“Congressman Jim Oberstar says that the preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may help prev ent another tragedy like the I-35W bridge collapse.  “The NTSB is right to take aggressive action to release any information about the bridge collapse.

Unless it doesn’t provide cover to Alice “The Phantom” Hausman, E-Tink, Nick Coleman, and the DFL and their other water carriers.

I’m going to send an email to Oberstar’s office asking for comment. 

I’ll keep you posted.

Noted In Passing

I got this via email today (I’ll keep the sender anonymous, unless the sender wants their identity made public); I’ve added emphasis:

As for the latest gusset plate findings, the original I35W bridge design and it’s approval seem to coincide with the peak of Minnesota political power of Nick Coleman Sr.  [the columnist's father, and former Minnesota legislative leader] If you really want to P.O. “Nickboy” you can refer to the collapsed I35W bridge and “the Nick Coleman Senior collapse I35W bridge”.

Heh.

Although that’d be kind of below the belt; Nick Senior wasn’t any more an engineer than his son is. 

(Or any less a “journalist”, if we presume that the elder Coleman wouldn’t have been publicity-hungry, or dumb, enough to have blamed politicians for disaster before he knew any empirical facts).

Right In The Gussets

The last time Nick “The Monkey” Coleman talked about gusset plates, he was tittering like a schoolgirl (I add some emphasis):

Get ready to be gusseted…I doubt that many Minnesotans heard of gussets before Aug. 1…“gusset” has become a favorite word in the mouths of politicians, particularly those looking to cast suspicion not on their politics or policies, but on inanimate steel objects.

Of course, if the “inanimate steel objects” (and, more importantly, the design work that went into them) actually were the problem – well, that’d be an issue, wouldn’t it?…Although a three-year study of the problems of the ailing I-35W bridge did not focus attention on the bridge’s gussets, and although the bridge was still in the Mississippi River, it took only a week after the bridge fell for the Bush administration’s secretary of transportation, Mary Peters, to finger the culprits: Gussets.

The mockery oozes through Coleman’s writing; you can practically hear his thought process creaking away:  “GUSsets!  That sounds FUNny.  Sounds like something a Buh-LOGG-er would think up.  Damg WINGnuts“.

Well, he was wrong.  We were right.  And Coleman has, apparently, been “gusseted”.

So badly gusseted was he that he gussets logic even worse than usual!:

The head of the National Transportation Safety Board says inspections of the Interstate 35W bridge would not have found flaws in the design of the bridge, which opened in 1967. Such inspections would not have learned if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or whether the moon is made of green cheese, either.

Ooh, can I play?

“But then, raising the gas tax wouldn’t have copped Oswald, cheesopsied the moon or raised the Titanic!”

Maybe I can be a “Metro Columnist”.

So NTSB board chairman Mark Rosenker was disingenuous, at best, when he said “routine” inspections would not have found a flaw in the bridge gussets that the NTSB is blaming for the collapse. “Routine?”

There was nothing “routine” about the bridge, including its inspections. It had so many problems that it was the most-inspected bridge in Minnesota and engineers were openly worried (according to a story in this paper Aug. 19) about the dangers of a collapse.

That nobody – nobody! – proof-reads Coleman’s material is a matter of record.  But I wonder – does Coleman even read his own stuff after he types it?

The fact that MNDoT recognized the bridge’s issues - ”Worried” about it - to the point where it became the most inspected bridge in Minnesota means that the response was routine.

The question isn’t whether the original designers were distracted by thoughts of Marilyn Monroe as they were planning the bridge. The question is why wasn’t the bridge closed, or fixed, by those in charge now?

Because nobody knew the gussets were inadequate enough to topple the bridge.  Corrosion is a fact of life in steel structures, and piers are just as prone to tilting as foundations are to settling after 40 years. 

But the gussets are a godsend to officials who want the public to believe they had no idea the bridge was in jeopardy and there was nothing that could have been done about it.

Neither statement is true.

Right – presuming that any indication existed that the gussets were inadequate for the job. 

Which, as it happens, seems – at this point – to be inconveniently nonexistant.

The gussets are Minnesota’s O Ring. When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, the flaw was a gasket called an O ring that failed in cold temperatures. But the O ring problem was known to the officials who crossed their fingers and launched the shuttle.

The O ring didn’t decide to launch itself, and the bridge didn’t decide to stay open to traffic, despite its many flaws.

The difference – because Coleman either chooses not to explain it, or because he doesn’t know any better (place your bets) was that while Morton-Thiokol – the company that designed and built the O-rings on the Challenger - left documentary evidence that they knew the O-rings could contract outside of tolerances during cold weather, there is no documentary evidence (available to the public, at any rate) that the bridge’s designers had the foggiest clue that their gusset plates were inadequate to the job. 

To be able to explain the difference would be the mark of a good journalist…

…so let’s just move on.

But the present administration is in the hands of a political philosophy that has not been willing to invest enough in the future while leaning, too heavily, on what was built in the past.

So for Nick’s benefit, let’s indulge in some alternate history.

Let’s say Skip Humphrey was elected governor in 1998, and turned the show over to Mike Hatch in ’06, and just for kicks, let’s say they governed from 2002 on with Tic supermajorities in both houses.  Let’s assume (safely) that they jacked up taxes, and that they then went on to:

  1. anticipate that infrastructure repair was their top priority (we’re being wildly hypothetical, here), and…
  2. …until that long, unglamorous job was done, they would resist the politican’s great siren song, to build monuments to their own wisdom by wasteing any more money on mass transit (again, really going out on a limb) and…
  3. …in a feat of Kreskin-like prediction, someone at MNDoT knew that they needed to measure all of the gusset plates on the state’s bridges, re-checking forty-year-old calculations and material spec work from long-retired engineers against real-life deterioration and changes in assumptions, on the off-chance that such a project would come up with forty-year-old errors?

Then, if all  of those assumptions were met, there would have been a chance of predicting the disaster. 

Any action on that bet?

Blaming the collapse on design errors made by people who are gone from the scene does not go far enough in finding responsibility for an avoidable tragedy.

No.  It doesn’t go far enough in hunting the witches Nick Coleman wants to find.

The fallout from Aug. 1 is far from over. And Tuesday’s NTSB report won’t end it.

Minnesota was not just let down by flawed steel, but by a flawed commitment to safety and the public good.

And today, it’s being let down by shallow, showy, shrill, shrieking, agenda-driven hackery masquerading not only as “journalism” (where it stands out from the norm only through its own incompetence), but as armchair “engineering” to boot.

(Or as Coleman himself might say in his Bowery-Boys-via-Ole-And-Lena argot, the big cheese Coleman was so full of gas that his column got gusseted by the wingnuts) 

Facts Are For Wingnuts

I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see how the local Sorosphere would react to the news that their conclusion that the “No New Taxes” crowd all but blew up the 35W River Bridge was wrong.

And while Lori Sturdevant is the gold standard for Tic PR flaks in this area (and Nick Coleman is the DFL’s trained organ-grinder monkey), there is no better barometer of the Twin Cities’ left’s smug, entitled gestalt than Brian Lambert.  I’ve beein waiting for his take on what is – for most of us – the good news; the news that bad design, rather than depraved malfeasance, led to the collapse.

Was I to be disappointed?

It’s Lambert.  He’s the most reliable source of material in town.

It was 6 p.m. Tuesday when I first heard of the NTSB’s “preliminary” finding that a design flaw—too thin gusset plates—was the cause of the I-35W bridge collapse. By 6:07 p.m., I had received a copy of an e-mail Star Tribune bete noire, Dan Cohen, had fired off into the teeth of Eric Ringham and Tim O’Brien of the paper’s editorial page and columnist Nick Coleman.

Read Lambert’s piece for Cohen’s letter and [the parts of Cohen's] background [that express Lambert's bias].  Summary:  Cohen, like me, was jumping on Nick “the Monkey” Coleman’s many, loathsome, premature assignments of guilt.  (A detailed fisk of Coleman’s “the dog ate my logic” column will follow, probably tomorrow).

And to start with, Lambert puts on his big-boy pants and takes his medicine:

Those of us who shared Coleman’s view—that penny-pinching by craven politicians fearful of the wrath of the cynical “small-government crowd” bear a responsibility for the collapse—aren’t exactly buoyed by the NTSB report.

I’m trying to imagine how “buoyed” one would be by circumstances that led to 13 deaths.  But in the interest of discussion, I’ll let that one slide. 

But this one is “preliminary.” It is not the last word, and myriad issues remain, all supporting more comprehensive inspection and maintenance of government-owned infrastructure, something that requires significantly more cash than will ever be generated by a piddly five-cent-a-gallon tax increase…

 …and all of which would be more useful than the billion plus dollars we’re going to spend on a light rail line from nowhere to noplace – which seems to be completely inviolate in the world of Brian Lambert and Nick Coleman. 

Moreover, although Cohen and his “no-new-taxes brigade” have distilled this to Coleman and the Star Tribune vs. Republicans, Carol Molnau and Govenor Pawlenty in particular, Coleman at least was pretty clear at the start that blame should be placed at the feet of both political parties with the Republicans just happening to be running the show as the thing fell into the river.

This is, of course, buncombe:  it was aimed squarely at Pawlenty, fiscal conservatives (and the handy dandy group that serves as our lobbying body, the Taxpayers League) and anyone that doesn’t claim to channel the spirit of Walter Mondale.  Which would be Minnesota’s right – Republicans and the thin film of fiscally-responsible Tics. 

Read it and judge for yourself.

There is actual good news in Lambert’s column, though.  That’s right – those of us who believe Coleman has less “gatekeeping” and “editing” than any self-respecting blogger are also vindicated!

In the interest of both fairness and putting on a quality show for the reading public (who always loves a good scrap . . . not to mention the sight of newspaper elitists eating crow), I called…Coleman, who, at a little before 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, was banging out a column that he doubted the paper would ever run. (Have I buried the lede here?)

When I asked what he was going to say to the Dan Cohens of the world, Coleman replied, “I’ve been strongly advised not to even try.”  Word, he says, had been passed along down the editing chain that nothing from him on the NTSB  finding was wanted unless he could come up with a new, fresh “reported” angle, maybe, you know, another variation on some victim’s story. (Can’t get enough of that, can we?) But his columnist’s opinion on the report? Apparently not, according to Coleman.

Did I mention he was writing one anyway?

No, and since the suspense isn’t killing you either, gentle reader, here it is

That’s why I like the guy. He’s a public asset. I think it’s the Irish thing. Born to brawl and all that. When you have some insulated, dweeby editor wringing hands over . . . ooohhh “contentiousness” and “needless provocation” . . ., you want a guy who basically says, “[Bleep] off, and go back to your pod.”

Did the “insulated, dweeby editor” mention anything about “jumping to conclusions” and “acting on facts not anywhere in actual evidence?”

“Responsibility as a reporter?”

“Writing to a standard higher than the bloggers who standards Nick Coleman couldn’t meet if he had to?” 

 I used to think that was what good Metro columnists did. Especially when they had the acute theatrical sense to know that everyone following a story as rich as the Strib‘s (entirely warranted) “Get Molnau” series wants to hear his response to what appears to be a damning official declaration that he and his colleagues have been wrong, and his apology to the poor beknighted Ms. Molnau. (Believe me, that last part ain’t happening.)

And…why?

He was wrong!  The engineers have (preliminarily) scuppered Coleman’s arrogant, purplefaced, wrong conclusion!  Empirical fact has beaten emotional demigoguery!

And Coleman’s empirical, considered, “journalistic” response?

As for Cohen, Coleman says, “I like Dan. Hell, I agree with him on about 90 percent of his criticisms of the paper. But he’s full of gas on this gusset thing.”

“Full of gas”.

And yes, [Strib letters editor and leftyblog starboinker Tim] O’Brien says reaction to the NTSB report is already building with righties demanding to know when the paper is going to apologize to Carol Molnau.

Maybe publisher Chris Harte will run over to St. Paul hat in hand. I don’t see Coleman making that trip.

A better guess: like all good high priests of knowledge, they’ll withdraw to their inner sanctum until the peasants go elsewhere.

We’ll get to Coleman in a bit.

Meal Ticket: Stolen!

With yesterday’s news that the NTSB’s investigation of the 35W Bridge collapse will conclude that a design flaw from the 1960′s – inadequate gusset plates – combined perhaps with excess weight on the deck is the most likely culprit for the disaster, the Tics’ key political truncheon for the next session is on the verge of being seized from them.

And they’re neither happy, nor giving up without a fight tantrum.

“The NTSB investigation is not yet complete,” House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said Tuesday. “It would be helpful if [Pawlenty] would follow his own advice and not add his own speculation on the cause of the 35W bridge collapse.”

Kelliher – one of the dumbest speakers Minnesota has ever had – sounds like a teenager being confronted about a piece of wrecked furniture; “Oh, yeah? Were you there? Did you see it get broken?”

And Speaker Kelliher – you didn’t seem too concerned about “waiting for the report” when your caucus-mate Alice “The Phantom” Hausman went on WCCO to indict the failure of the gas tax even before the last kid was off the schoolbus, did you?

Pawlenty and DFLers came together briefly after the bridge fell on Aug. 1,

[Very briefly]

Pawlenty said on Tuesday that within hours of the collapse, a “political leader” whom he would not name had called him and threatened retribution and that since then opponents had made repeated and inaccurate “linkages” of the bridge collapse to his earlier vetoes of transportation legislation.

In light of the report, he said, they should “have the decency to correct those statements,” he said

Minneapolis and Saint Paul are one-party towns; being a Tic means never having to say you’re sorry.

He noted that there was “a bit of irony” to the fact that the design error detailed by the National Transportation Safety Board had occurred during the fabled golden era for public works in Minnesota.

Kudos to the Governor for saying that; the bridge was an artifact of an age that the DFL points to as one where “we” did things “right”. Indeed, if you want to indulge in excessive metaphor, the collapse frames nicely the demise of the “Minnesota Miracle” – the storied time when government took credit for a boom in regional prosperity that (sssssh) would have happened anyway in Minnesota, a sleeping giant at a time of immense growth nationwide.

“It is clear that MNDOT did everything humanly possible to maintain our bridges,” [Senate Minority Leader Dick] Day said. He accused Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, who has called repeatedly for Molnau’s resignation as commissioner, of “prematurely and recklessly blaming her.”

But Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, was unrepentant Tuesday, saying that Pawlenty was overreaching and that the report drew no definitive conclusions about the reasons for the collapse.

“If a half-inch gusset plate kept that bridge up for 40 years, why not another 40?” Murphy said.

I’m going to pause and let that sink in for a moment.

Steve Murphy – chowderhead Tic who couldn’t pass an engineering class at gunpoint, but who would say 2+2=Bacon if Margaret Anderson Kelliher told him to – is saying “So what if the plates broke? What if they hadn’t?”

“Could it be because rust ate it away? Because the trips over the bridge went from 25,000 to 140,000? The parameters changed, and MNDOT should have been going back, making sure all the gussets, I-beams and plates could handle 140,000 trips a day.”

Of course – they did.

The NTSB’s safety recommendation noted that “although inspections of the bridge identified and tracked some areas of tracking and corrosion, at this point in the investigation there is no indication that any of those areas played a significant role in the collapse of the bridge.”

That set off U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Oberstar said that such a dismissal of the possible role of rust and corrosion was “inappropriate and uncharacteristic of a board chairman. That [the design flaw] may be the proximate cause, but there are contributing factors in every accident.”

In other words – key Tic porkmonger Oberstar won’t directly try to politically undercut the NTSB, but he’s still running damage control for the locals.

Who, if there is any justice, will need it.

The DFL, as the curtain seemingly starts to close on the “mystery” phase of this tragedy, looks like a bunch of angry hamsters, angrily gnawing and chattering away, trying to wish things into being that just aren’t.

To Do List

Item #1:  Build new 35W River Bridge.  Well, the job is underway, and supposedly under a year from completion.

Item #2:  Absorb the NTSB report, which reportedly blames design flaws in the collapse of the 35W River Bridge last August.  That’s “Design Flaws” – insufficiently-strong gusset plates.  Which were part of the original bridge construction, forty-odd years ago.  Back when there was, apparently, no shortage of tax money. 

Item #3: Await apology from Nick Coleman:  After all, before they’d even found all the submerged cars, the Non-Monkey had blamed Pawlenty, the GOP and the Taxpayers’ League, and the “failure” to raise the Gas Tax, for the disaster, all but accusing them of complicity in murder.

Item #4:  Await same from Alice Hausman: The famous truck was still engulfed in flames when Alice “The Phantom” Hausman, Tic from Saint Paul, Chairbeing of the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, and subject of an unseemly Lori Sturdevant girl crush, went on WCCO Radio and blamed the disaster on taxes.

Item #5:  Await More Of Same From Elwyn Tinklenberg: Elwin “E-Tink” Tinklenburg, Transportation Commissioner for DFL-Lite “Independence” Party governor Jesse “The Stealth Tic” Ventura, and perennial Tic candidate for higher office (he’s been pondering running against Michele Bachmann since before Rep. Bachmann was actually elected) did pretty much the same.

Item #6:  Congratulate Mike Mosedale The City Pages: The City Pages Mike Mosedale (Winner of the 2007 “At Least He’s Not Matt Snyders or G.R. Anderson” award) wrote ran a long article in the metro’s foremost freebie, speculatively blaming…:

  • The Governor
  • Carol Molnau
  • MNDoT
  • The Taxpayers League and David Strom
  • The repair work going one on the deck
  • The Feds
  • The Met Council
  • The state bureaucracy
  • Society’s addiction to new goodies (like trains and ballparks)

..and…

  • The original design of the bridge

In retrospect, the non-political parts of Mosedale’s the piece were remarkably balanced for a local lefty alt-media report.  Which is sort of like saying “except for the iceberg, the Titanic had a pretty good cruise”.

I’ll get working on them.

A Thousand Little Miracles

If you wander around the Twin Cities, you can find about a quarter of a million people who were in the Metrodome (capacity: 50-odd-thousand) for Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Likewise, in a few years I suspect you’ll be able to find tens of thousands of people who were on the 35W Bridge during the collapse.

The Strib has identified and gotten the stories from most of them.

They want that Pulitzer so bad you can almost taste it.