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:
anticipate that infrastructure repair was their top priority (we’re being wildly hypothetical, here), and…
…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…
…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)