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Bridge closure to teach us a lesson (06/22/2008)
By John Edstrom

In a story first appearing right here in the Winona Post, it was revealed that Mn/DOT already knew what it was going to find when the Interstate Bridge was inspected early this June. After the agency maintained, variously, that there was no inspection report from last year, or that the 2007 inspections didn't really look at the gusset plates, the Post's Sarah Elmquist dug out the report, which did indeed exist, and discovered that rust and holes in the gusset plates had been found and noted in those previous inspections.

"We knew there were holes," Craig Falkum, Mn/DOT District Structures Engineer owned up. "That was something that they definitely knew about." Well then, here is a question: why, if Mn/DOT knew about the rusty gussets, was there no particular problem last year, whereas this year emergency closure of the bridge was necessary? DFL apologists would have it that the courageous legislators who passed a record $6.6 billion gas and transportation tax increase, (during an economic slowdown while gas prices are tripling), have now provided the funds, just in the nick of time, to keep our bridges from falling down. (And something that is seldom mentioned is that the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax amendment passed in November 2006 had already provided an extra $2.4 billion in transportation funding through 2017.)

The cover for this ambitious, highly improbable political whopper is the collapse of the I-35 bridge last summer. But we now know that that bridge failed because critical gusset plates, due to an inexplicable and catastrophic design blunder, were half-sized. Bridge inspections are not intended to uncover design flaws, which are not a maintenance or inspection issue.

There is no tragic error in the design of Winona's bridge. It is getting old and rusty, and was scheduled for replacement in 2017. It was inspected and graded according to federal protocol in place nationwide, and found to have no crucial issues. According to 2007 federal statistics, as reported by Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation, tops in the Midwest, for low percentage of bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. In other words, our bridges are in better shape than those in 46 other states.

If, in fact, there was widespread, consistent delay in critical maintenance of Minnesota's bridges so as to compromise public safety, then bridges would be going down all over the country. They are not; the system works well.

What is not working well is Minnesota government which has reverted to the worst of its old tax and spend habits. The Legislature already had an extra heavy helping of transportation funding from the MVST amendment, and a gas tax higher than the national average. Nevertheless, it helped itself to a record gas and transportation tax increase just as Minnesotans are reeling from record high gas and energy prices, not to mention an economic downturn. Legislators, particularly in outstate Minnesota where billions of dollars worth of light rail will never be seen, much less ridden, are afraid of voter wrath come November, so they, liberal media, and a complicit state bureaucracy are using unnecessary, theatrical bridge closures to whoop up hysteria and provide political cover.

What we get in Winona out of all this is a new bridge before we need it, and all the attendant disruption and inconvenience, plus a ruinous two-week closure to teach us a lesson in loving our new, higher taxes.



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