Some Collapse. Others Burn.

I’ve been collecting emails and other material about the chronic mess that is the Minnesota Department of Transportation.  There’ll be a much bigger post on this issue later on this week.

In the meantime, Sarah Janecek starts digging into the rathole:

The bridge collapse–in what’s sure to be an excruciatingly painful process–will put the spotlight on what anyone who has worked in Minnesota transportation policy has known for decades: the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is a mess. No one administration or political party is to blame. The Rudy Perpich (DFL) Administration (1982-1990), the Arne Carlson (R) Administration (1990-1998), the Jesse Ventura (I) Administration (1998-2002) and the Tim Pawlenty (R) Administration (2002-to present) have all made the same call. There are other, sexier things to fund rather than existing infrastructure and that’s what’s happened.

That, as they say, is just the beginning. 

Read the whole thing.

In other Bridge-related news, Wog has some theories about the collapse.  Some make you go “hmm”, some make you go “hmph”, and all of them are better than anything Nick Coleman’s come up with…

19 thoughts on “Some Collapse. Others Burn.

  1. “have all made the same call”

    Except that the Perpich, Carlson, and Ventura administrations did not all make the same call. They deferred action on a younger bridge with fewer reports of possible problems.

  2. Right.

    And the current administration, on the advice of its engineers, took the action the engineers deemed appropriate.

    And then something went wrong.

    And we don’t know what that “something” was, and that “we” means “you, either”.

  3. In June 2006,
    “The consultant made two recommendations — reinforce the bridge or monitor fatigue cracks through yearly inspections. The state chose to inspect rather than undertake repairs.”

    Not having seen the report, I don’t know if the engineers said ‘pick A or B, either one is equally good’ or ‘A costs more but is safer or B is less expensive but not as safe’. Note that in summer of 2006, Pawlenty was in the news for trying to get highway contractors to finance their own construction projects, so money was a serious issue.

    To be precise, it looks like the engineers recommended options and Pawlenty made the final choice. Whether the choice was “appropriate” is not an engineering issue, it is a public policy decision.

  4. I ran this by my uncle last night and he qualified the hell out of his remarks on what MIGHT have caused the issue. To be brief, he thought it was a number of actions that added up to begin the chain reaction of the bridge falling down, but again pointed out that is was pure speculation. He only has 50+ years in this sort of thing, so I will defer to RickDFL. So since it takes time and money to repair a bridge, plus figuring out what to do with the traffic rerouted, after this bridge is replaced, which bridge should be the next one? Time to find my magic hindsight glasses.

  5. Buzz:

    You may be right. Maybe Pawlenty made a tough call that other projects had a priority. If so he should stand up and make that argument.

    But that is not what Mitch was saying. Mitch was trying to pass responsibility down onto the engineers. But the report this morning makes it clear that the engineers outlined a set of options and Pawlenty choose one option (more inspections) that cost less money over the alternative (repairs) that cost more money. His choice may have been defensible, but given his serious problems with transportation funding at the exact same time, we ought to at least look at why he choose the low cost option.

  6. “Pawlenty choose one option (more inspections) that cost less money over the alternative (repairs) that cost more money. ”

    I don’t remember seeing anything that said Pawlenty made the call on this decision. Seems like a MnDot level issue, not something that a governor would get involved in.

    If you read the whole article you’d have found this further explanation for the MnDOT decision.

    “MnDOT chose to address the issue of fatigue cracking through inspection because retrofitting the trusses with steel plates would have required extensive drilling for bolt holes. The renovation, the department feared, would weaken the bridge further.”

    You did read all of the article, didn’t you?

  7. Why would the governor be in on that sort of decision? Isnt that micromanaging down to dangerous levels? I would assume on bridges that the state department of transportation would prepare reports on new bridges, old bridges, future bridges, etc and what is needed to build or maintain and what urgency there is on all of them. Then the legislature would decide how much money it would cost and how many of these they could afford and include them in a budget and then send to the Gov to sign. Now if the Gov red lined this bridge out because he wanted to build a baseball stadium despite the engineers insistence that this was urgent, you would have a case. However, I would bet that if the engineers thought it was in danger of collapsing the bridge would have had at the very least weight restrictions or be closed to traffic. I don’t think anyone abused their position or ruthlessly bet the lives of the people using that bridge against anything happening to it, I think whatever caused the bridge to fail was missed or well hidden and will be used in training engineers and inspectors for years to come, but I suspect the inspection report said that the bridge needs to be replaced or repaired in the next x amount of years and was submitted with no more urgency that any other report.
    The only safe option is to close all marginal bridges right now until they can be inspected or replaced. That will cost an unimaginable amount of money, not just for the inspections, repairs and replacements, but also time lost, gas used in the thousands of detours, etc. Out of the thousands of bridges we have in the country, every once in awhile one will fail. And because of that, the inspectors will be reminded to do their job correctly, the contractors will be reminded to do their jobs correctly in repairing or building and the local, state and federal government will be reminded to put some money into maintenance and replacement rather than a Elvis museum in West Virginia. For a couple of days, anyway.

  8. “I don’t remember seeing anything that said Pawlenty made the call on this decision”
    “Why would the governor be in on that sort of decision?”

    Last I checked, the DOT was still a branch of Executive Department and reported to Pawlenty. If he approves of what the DOT did, let him say so. If he disapproves, let him hold his subordinates accountable.

    Buzz:
    “Now if the Gov red lined this bridge out because he wanted to build a baseball stadium despite the engineers insistence that this was urgent, you would have a case.”

    But the brewing objection to Pawlenty is not that he ignored a single problem with this bridge, but that he tolerated a situation where there were a large number of bridges, each with a small but serious chance of failure. By vetoing the gas tax and thus depriving MnDOT of money, Pawlenty slowed down the process of repairing bridges like the I-35W bridge.

  9. So you admit that statements like this are bullshit?

    “the report this morning makes it clear that the engineers outlined a set of options and Pawlenty choose one option (more inspections) that cost less money over the alternative (repairs) that cost more money.”

    “If he approves of what the DOT did, let him say so.”

    Maybe he’s doing what you ought to be doing; waiting for the NTSB to determine cause.

    But no, you point fingers directly at Pawlenty for making a decision that he didn’t make. And you claim that he made this decision for budgetary reasons while ignoring that there were additional engineering issues to consider.

    Why are you still ignoring this?

    “MnDOT chose to address the issue of fatigue cracking through inspection because retrofitting the trusses with steel plates would have required extensive drilling for bolt holes. The renovation, the department feared, would weaken the bridge further.”

  10. Paul:

    Captain Ed shows that there was sufficient tax revenue to repair the 35W bridge. But that money was spent on other projects. So to fix the bridge you would have to cut from other programs that were funded. But Governor Pawlenty did not choose to cut those other programs and fix the bridge. He did not choose to keep the programs, raise the gas tax, and fix the bridge. Instead he choose to keep the other programs, not raise the gas tax, and not fix the bridge.

    MON:

    “Maybe he’s doing what you ought to be doing; waiting for the NTSB to determine cause.”
    WTF? You people have a seriously twisted view of responsibility. If DOT took a calculated risk, Pawlenty should endorse or condemn it prior to knowing the cause of the bridge collapse. It is pretty easy to make the right call on a calculated risk question, after you know the results.

    “And you claim that he made this decision for budgetary reasons while ignoring that there were additional engineering issues to consider.”
    No. I pointed out that Pawlenty was under server fiscal pressure which makes me wonder what role those pressures played in his decision making.

    I do not know that his DOT made the wrong call on the June 2006 report. But it was his Administration, and I do not want to let Mitch and Sarah blame the engineers or previous administrations.

    “Why are you still ignoring this?”
    Because it is a technical question that smarter people will answer. Like I keep repeating, there may be perfectly good reasons behind the calculated risk. I would like to know who in the Department made this assessment.

  11. Again, wasnt the state running a surplus during this time frame? And if so, doesnt that invalidate the arguement that there was no money for the bridge? And the statement “If DOT took a calculated risk, Pawlenty should endorse or condemn it prior to knowing the cause of the bridge collapse. ” means what, exactly? IF seems to be the key word there. Do we know this to be true?

  12. “the report this morning makes it clear that the engineers outlined a set of options and Pawlenty choose one option (more inspections) that cost less money over the alternative (repairs) that cost more money.”

    You claimed that Pawlenty personally made the decision based on cost while completly ignoring the fact that (1) he didn’t make the decision, (2) the decision was based on technical reasons other than cost, and (3) the decision may or may not have had anything to do with the bridge collapse.

    Do you have any evidence that 1-3 are not true?

  13. The big surplus was during the Ventura administration. If the state has been in the black during the Pawlenty admin, it hasn’t been by much.

    I’ll go on record and saying that I think the left has been overplaying this. The DFL and prominent liberals have not done enough to distance themselves from the finger-pointing fringe.

    There’s a bridge (central portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct) in Seattle that scored a 9. Maybe Nick Coleman wants to explain how the GOP is responsible fo rthat one, too.

  14. The St Croix River crossing bridge at Stillwater scored a 2.8. Of course, it isn’t the Pawlenty administration that is delaying building a replacement. It’s the NIMBYs and the Environazis fighting against it.

  15. Check this out:

    http://sayanythingblog.com/entry/while_some_75000_bridges_in_america_are_in_need_of_repair/

    I especially liked this part about the 2005 Highway Bill:

    “The state of Minnesota received 147 earmarks from the bill worth $495 million according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

    Included in the list of Minnesota transportation earmarks are “high priority” projects like $1.578 million for bicycle trail construction, $1.3 million for a new visitor’s center, and $1.52 for streetscape construction.

    The inclusion of these seemingly unnecessary earmarks begs the question: if these are designated by Congress as a “high priority,” then what does a low priority look like?”

    That’s why we see index-finger breaking in the rush to point at Pawlenty; to cover pork-laden a$$e$.

  16. Pingback: Nick Coleman: Buried In Inconvenient Truth | Shot in the Dark

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