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Design flaw identified in bridge failure (01/20/2008)
By John Edstrom

Since the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis went down last August, critics and enemies of Governor Tim Pawlenty's administration and friends of higher taxes have put up a steady howl, blaming him and Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, (also Minnesota Transportation Commissioner), for pinching pennies on bridge inspection and maintenance and thereby bringing on the tragedy of the collapse. At the time, the prediction here was that when the pieces were sorted out, the catastrophe would be found to be of a freak nature and not something that higher taxes, gas or otherwise, would have prevented.

Sure enough, last Wednesday the National Transportation Safety Board laid the blame on a relatively small number of gusset plates that were inexplicably spec'd 1/2'' rather than 1" thick back in the 1960s. (Gusset plates fasten beams where they come together to form joints in a bridge's superstructure.) Board Chairman Mark Rosenker said that there wasn't any indication that poor maintenance played a role in the accident.

He also stated that gusset plates are traditionally considered the strongest link in steel truss bridges and said that "bridge inspections would not have identified the error in the design." In other words, it is the job of bridge inspectors to identify wear and tear, not reanalyze the original design of a bridge, something they are not equipped or competent to do. The original design of the "fracture critical," bridge, which means that a failure of any key component will bring the whole thing down, apparently created a structure that was only half as strong as intended at its weakest joints. Truly, a freak occurrence.

Thus if there were blame to be dealt, it would go to the firm responsible for the original design, and whatever state entity passed on it, back in...the Karl Rolvaag administration. Shall we dig him up and flog him? The media reaction to all this in Minneapolis is to point a finger at Rosenker for being a Bush appointee, despite the NTSB report being unanimously agreed upon by all five board members.

Egg all over their faces, those who have been so quick and reckless in assigning blame for the tragedy have not had the good grace to issue any apologies or even back off their steady drumbeat for the gas and transportation tax increases they thought they could whoop up out of this incident. It is clear, however, that they have run out of gas with this issue.



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