Lead articles in the Friday editions of both the Minneapolis Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press told of the final results of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the August ‘07 collapse of the I-35W highway bridge in Minneapolis. Not surprisingly, to those who have followed the story, blame for the bridge failure was placed entirely on an unbelievably flawed design which specified gusset plates half the size that were needed in critical areas. (Gusset plates are the fasteners that hold together steel girders which are the framework of a bridge. It was supposed concerns over gusset plates in our local Interstate Bridge which caused it to be closed last summer.) The report made it clear that the failure was not a maintenance or inspection issue, and therefore not caused in any way by penny-pinching or a lack of funds.
Both papers were rather blasé in their accounts, considering that they had run frenzied coverage at the time suggesting that the tragedy was the result of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s cheapskate unwillingness to raise taxes and thereby save many a citizen from the yawning abyss. A headline in the Press read, “Catastrophe highlights need for transportation funding,” while the Tribune quoted an anonymous source who claimed, “There were people over there (MnDOT) who were deathly afraid that this kind of tragedy was going to be visited upon us...”
Apparently, now that the incident has been successfully used to ram a record $6.6 billion gas and transportation tax increase through the Legislature, (on top of the Nov. 2006 Motor Vehicle Sales tax amendment providing another $2.4 billion in transportation money through 2107), the bridge collapse is no longer useful, and therefore, of little additional interest.
However, the NTSB’s findings do document that the I-35W tragedy provides no evidence that there is any grave traffic safety issue, in Minnesota or elsewhere, that requires vast new sources of funding to resolve. The new $6.6 billion in transportation taxes will address no problem except to slake (temporarily) the DFL’s insatiable thirst for taxing and spending, aided and abetted by their shills in the urban press corps.
Unfortunately, that horse is out of the barn. But there is an issue quite a way down the road that can still be addressed, a local one in which Winonans have a huge stake. The replacement of our own Interstate Bridge, originally slated for as far off as 2023, is now scheduled for 2015. Its disastrous, precipitous closure in June was originally blamed on gusset plate holes and corrosion discovered in an emergency inspection, but it soon developed that there were no significant new findings that weren’t in the previous year’s report.
No one has been able to explain the need for the closure, other than as political theater providing cover for greedy legislators who foisted a huge new gas tax on constituents already reeling under record fuel costs and a recession whose bottom is still to be seen.
Replacement of Winona’s bridge represents a thorny thicket of unresolved problems. Where will the new one come down? Will the old bridge stay open during construction of the new one? We know that if it doesn’t, disaster, probably permanent, will be visited on Winona’s economy, especially the retail sector and the downtown.
Would it not be wise, now that bridge collapse hysteria has subsided, and our local bridge has undergone extensive renovation, to put off its permanent replacement to the date originally scheduled? It is in no way inadequate now or in the near future. Why rush into the many problems and difficulties the building of a new bridge will entail?