Pork did not bring down the St. Anthony Bridge

posted at 9:20 am on May 1, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Few appreciate anti-pork efforts as much as I do, and John McCain has a long and distinguished track record in this area. However, he allowed himself to get carried away in Pennsylvania while campaigning against pork. McCain told reporters that the bridge collapse last August in Minneapolis occurred because of pork-barrel spending, which is just flat out wrong (via Memeorandum and Instapundit):

Republican John McCain said Wednesday that the bridge collapse in Minnesota that killed 13 people last year would not have happened if Congress had not wasted so much money on pork-barrel spending.

Federal investigators cite undersize steel plates as the “critical factor” in the collapse of the bridge. Heavy loads of construction materials on the bridge also contributed to the disaster that injured 145 people on Aug. 1, according to preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“The bridge in Minneapolis didn’t collapse because there wasn’t enough money,” McCain told reporters while campaigning in Pennsylvania. “The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects.” …

“I think there is a long, long list of earmarks which went to unnecessary and unwanted projects that I think should have gone to the bridge in Minnesota,” McCain said. “I don’t know whether it would have gone or not, but if you’re spending $223 million on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it …”

I covered this extensively at Captain’s Quarters, including when McCain made the same accusation just days after the bridge collapse. As I wrote at the time, even before the cause of the collapse was found to be a design flaw:

Even without the pork, Minnesota got a 46% increase in transportation funds from that bill. That amounted to a $1.1 billion windfall over five years — certainly plenty of money to conduct inspections. In fact, as I’ve noted before, we could have replaced that bridge almost three full times with that increase.

Also, the bridge just got inspected in May, less than three months before its collapse. No one skipped inspecting the bridge, and pork barrel projects didn’t interfere with the inspection schedule. There is no correlation between earmarking and this particular collapse. While it makes a rather stinging rebuttal to those who claim that a lack of tax increases caused the collapse, neither actually is true and neither advances our efforts to find the truth.

Just as I criticized Amy Klobuchar and James Oberstar for exploiting the tragedy for their political hobby horses, we need to ask Senator McCain to have a care how he uses the dead in our community. I fully support his efforts to end earmarks and push towards legislative reform, but let’s stick to the real consequences of earmark abuse. Those consequences are bad enough — elected representatives selling out the American taxpayer to pad their own bank accounts and protect their incumbencies, while dragging more and more of our treasure out of our homes and businesses to fuel their thirst for power.

Minnesotans spend $2.2 billion a year on transportation, more than three times what we spend on public safety (fire and police). It’s the second-largest portion of the discretionary budget in this state, and for good reason. Winters take their toll on roads and bridges, and both are constantly in inspection and repair statuses. The St. Anthony Bridge was no exception to that. Unfortunately, the design flaw didn’t become apparent until the bridge collapsed.

Pork didn’t kill the bridge or the thirteen Minnesotans who died as a result of the collapse. Pork has its own evils, but this bridge collapse wasn’t one of them. John McCain needs to drop this anecdote from the anti-pork speech, as it both discredits the argument and disrespects the victims.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Excellant coverage Ed. Much appreciated!

Pam on May 1, 2008 at 9:28 AM

Thanks, Ed. It’s great to have a Minnesotan perspective.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on May 1, 2008 at 9:31 AM

I thought that the main cause of the collapse was that repair workers, who were fixing the bridge’s road surface, simpled piled too much material on the bridge and overstressed it.

That ain’t pork, that’s morons.

profitsbeard on May 1, 2008 at 9:32 AM

McCain can’t seem to stop saying stupid things.

Moreover, I haven’t yet heard what his present take on drilling in ANWR is – remember, his was the deciding vote against it. In other words, HE IS DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR US NOT DRILLING IN ANWR! Present damn stupid (and MSM-pandering) then, and absolutely insane now…

So does he still agree with Schumer in the outrageous lie that developing our single largest undeveloped domestic oil field would only help oil prices by “one cent” – an idiocy, by the way? And that additional 50 billion dollars per year of fewer US dollars being shipped out of our country every single year from that production, and the increase of our national oil production of 20-25% per day, and the additional kickup in jobs and economic growth..

Jabbering about porkbarrel spending at this juncture while the #1 issue is gas prices is kind of stupid. But how can he defend his “energy policy” up to this point? His gas tax holiday is a good idea, but he’s stuck in the Hard-Left’s anti-oil Global Warming crap and cannot seem to extricate himself.
A Republican? I think not…

TexasJew on May 1, 2008 at 9:35 AM

Look at it this way. If it had been Ron Paul, the cause of the bridge collapse would have been attributed to previous sightings of Mothman.

pilamaye on May 1, 2008 at 10:03 AM

John McCain needs to drop this anecdote from the anti-pork speech, as it both discredits the argument and disrespects the victims.

I couldn’t agree more Ed. But unfortunately I think asking for honesty from our politicians is asking for too much from our politicians. (See also Hillary’s hospital story and Obama’s associates).

srhoades on May 1, 2008 at 10:11 AM

pilamaye on May 1, 2008 at 10:03 AM

Or Israel.

srhoades on May 1, 2008 at 10:11 AM

Heavy loads of construction materials on the bridge also contributed to the disaster

Thin plates in critical areas…. why was that? Were they trying to cut cost? Building material on the bridge contributing to the collapse? Are you kidding, these structures are suppose to be build to withstand ten times the maximum predicted load and still survive during an earthquake. The government didn’t have its priorities straight… save money on a bridge…. that’s nuts. How about inspections… why didn’t the inspectors find this problem over the years? How is it the undersized plates got approved? The entire design had to be approved at every phase…. who approved it? Who said the undersized plates were just fine…. and the price was right?

I’m with McCain on this one, the government wants to scrimp on its primary duties so they have money left over to buy votes with pet projects.

If this collapse would have happened in the private sector, somebody would be going to jail. But the government wolf is guarding the hen house on this one, and what a big surprise, they have decided to let themselves off easy.

Maxx on May 1, 2008 at 10:14 AM

Yep, that’s our guy. Smart cookie, isn’t he?

McCain’s problem is that he speaks before he thinks, and he tends to see everything through the prism of his own self-righteousness.

BigD on May 1, 2008 at 10:20 AM

Poor JUAN. He opens his mouth, inserts foot. Mayhaps he needs a new adviser for bridges. It has already been established poor design brought down this structure.

pueblo1032 on May 1, 2008 at 10:34 AM

Thin plates in critical areas…. why was that? Were they trying to cut cost? Building material on the bridge contributing to the collapse? Are you kidding, these structures are suppose to be build to withstand ten times the maximum predicted load and still survive during an earthquake

Good lord, what school of engineering did you flunk out of?

Stop, you’re just babbling.

Diogenes of Sinope on May 1, 2008 at 11:00 AM

“I think there is a long, long list of earmarks which went to unnecessary and unwanted projects that I think should have gone to the bridge in Minnesota,” McCain said.

This is proof that McCain is just as bad as the “rat” wannabes. Even if there not a long list of earmarks that went to unnecessary and unwanted projects; that bridge in Minnesota would not have gotten one more dollar in federal funding. McCain’s claim is not only ridiculous but it proves once again that he doesn’t respect the outside-the-beltway crowd enough to understand that we know when he is nothing but a big fat liar.

It’s really hard this year to be excited when a forced-on-the-base dirtbag like McCain thinks he can get away with this crap. Next thing we’ll be returning to his claims that he never was in favor of amnesty.

highhopes on May 1, 2008 at 11:04 AM

Yes, it shows a lack of respect for the victims.

easy on May 1, 2008 at 11:15 AM

All the people who inspected the bridge over the years started with this one mistaken assumption: The bridge was safe on the day it opened, when they cut the ribbon forty years ago. But unfortunately, that wasn’t true.

RBMN on May 1, 2008 at 11:20 AM

Diogenes of Sinope on May 1, 2008 at 11:00 AM

It’s not a matter of “engineering” Diogenes, its a matter of law.

typical maximum load allowed by law on most Federal highways weighs 40 tons (trucks with even heavier loads are allowed on some highways with approved permits).

— (see page 9 of link below (pdf))

A theoretical series of 40 ton trucks backed up on this bridge would have far exceeded the ten times rule of thumb maximum load I suggested. Yet, by law, bridges are suppose to handle far more than that.

And I’m babbling hun? OK, are these people babbling too?

AUDIT OF OVERSIGHT OF LOAD RATINGS AND POSTINGS ON STRUCTURALLY DEFICIENT BRIDGES
ON THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY SYSTEM

Federal Highway Administration
Report No. MH-2006-043
Date Issued: March 21, 2006

Make sure you take a look at the maps starting on page 24 that shows the percentages of structurally deficient bridges in the various states. The government is falling down in it duties to ensure reliable infrastructure and that’s because pet project buy more votes. But if you want to let the government off the hook on this, that’s fine with me, but don’t expect things to get any better.

Maxx on May 1, 2008 at 12:53 PM

Diogenes of Sinope on May 1, 2008 at 11:00 AM

Trolls are best ignored.

Al in St. Lou on May 1, 2008 at 2:07 PM

Minnesota Spends $1 Billion a Year for Neglible Light Rail Congestion Relief

The Wall Street Journal reports that: Minnesota spends $1.6 billion a year on transportation-but nearly $1 billion of that has been diverted from road and bridge repair to the state’s light rail network that has a negligible impact on traffic congestion.

And from the article linked above:

Minnesota’s transportation auditors warned as long ago as 1990 that there was a “backlog of bridges that are classified as having structural deficiencies.” In 1999 engineers declared that cracks found in the bridge that collapsed were “a major concern.” Bike paths were deemed a higher priority by Congress, however, including its powerful Minnesota Representatives.

hpb on May 1, 2008 at 2:16 PM

Bike paths were deemed a higher priority by Congress, however, including its powerful Minnesota Representatives.

hpb on May 1, 2008 at 2:16 PM

Ah yes… bike paths (obviously much more important than expressway bridges). I’m sure that got the environmentalist wack-o vote.

You see, doing something mundane like repairing bridges just doesn’t garner as many votes as doing something exciting like bike paths. Midnight basketball anyone?

Maxx on May 1, 2008 at 2:48 PM

Maxx on May 1, 2008 at 10:14 AM

Failure was due to the design of the bridge, the plate connection that you mentioned. It apparently calc-ed out at the time, though it was not a widely copied bridge design. There were engineers critical of the design approach in general and it fell out of use. In 40 years, there was no indication that there was a failure imminent. Corrosion of the members was not cited as the reason for the failure.

I believe that after the conclusions were published, one of the recommendations was to locate all other bridges that were designed similar to this one and have them inspected and retrofitted as necessary. It sounded like it is not a big number of bridges, but they are out there.

Mallard T. Drake on May 1, 2008 at 8:19 PM

Mallard T. Drake on May 1, 2008 at 8:19 PM

I appreciate that Mallard…. OK, I’ll give you this bridge, but did you look at the link I posted above. We have a couple of trillion dollars worth of work to on bridges in this country. Perhaps many of them need to be replaced, these structures were never designed to last forever. We could not have got that far behind without the government being asleep at the wheel. Even if THIS bridge was not the governments fault, how do you explain the thousands of others.

The government does not have it’s priorities straight, they waste train loads of our money and it’s literally going to kill a bunch of us if they don’t get a good smackdown on this point. And that’s how I feel. We should not be so quick to let them off the hook.

And like I said before, if an accident of this magnitude would have happened at some private industry, somebody would be going to jail… or at the very least that plant would be shut down until it got it’s act together. The government is always so sanctimonious with their dozens of agencies devoted to hounding the rest of us on safety, but when they screw the pooch where is their penalty?

Minnesota needs to pay the survivors of this accident in full for what their lifetime of work would have been worth. No matter what, with the only exception being an of God, the Government of Minnesota is responsible for this accident.

Maxx on May 1, 2008 at 8:59 PM