In the wake of the collapse of the St. Anthony Bridge collapse in August 2007, in which 13 people died, politicians around the state and across the country used the tragedy to blame Republicans for not raising taxes. Amy Klobuchar, Elwyn Tinklenberg, and James Oberstar castigated Governor Tim Pawlenty for opposing a gas tax increase, which they claimed cut bridge maintenance short. Politicians in both parties, and both presidential nominees, used the collapse to decry the lack of investment in infrastructure. Pundits responded by demanding more federal money on transportation.
The only fly in the ointment? The bridge fell from design flaws that existed from the beginning, and not a lack of maintenance:
Original designers of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis likely neglected to calculate the size of key gusset plates that eventually failed, a human mistake that culminated 40 years later when 13 people died after the span collapsed, federal safety investigators have found.
They also have determined that corrosion of certain gusset plates, extreme heat and shifting piers did not contribute to the bridge’s collapse on Aug. 1, 2007, according to sources with direct knowledge of the probe. In three weeks, investigators will present their findings to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which will publicly review the draft report in a hearing Nov. 13 at the board’s Washington headquarters. After that, the board will use the draft as the basis for its final report on the probable cause of the collapse and recommendations for preventing future disasters.
Had key steel gusset plates been designed properly — they were one-half inch thick instead of an inch — the bridge would have been able to withstand tons of concrete and steel added in two renovation projects as well as the 287-ton construction load on the bridge the day it collapsed, sources said.
Ironically, the bridge collapse got hastened by the maintenance being performed on it that day — thanks to the miscalculation of the strength of the gusset plates.
How will this be received? We can guess based on the political attacks the NTSB has already taken from the “not enough taxes” crowd that attempted to pre-empt the investigation:
In January, NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker was criticized by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and others for placing too much early emphasis on gusset plate failure as the potential cause. But the investigators’ findings appear to validate Rosenker’s early stance.
Oberstar, Klobuchar, Tinklenberg, and all of the others who attempted to exploit this tragedy for political gain should apologize publicly for their actions. They couldn’t even wait until the victims got removed from the water before irresponsibly inflaming public opinion and demonstrating their engineering incompetence. The Star Tribune should fire Nick Coleman, the columnist who waited six whole hours before blaming Taxpayers League chair David Strom for the deaths, and they should fire the editor who allowed that column to run.
I wrote extensively on this tragedy at Captain’s Quarters, and the posts are aggregated in one category. From the beginning, Pawlenty showed real leadership and restraint, even when seemingly everyone in state and national office panicked. Early on, the information gleaned from around the country pointed to inadequate gusset plates and a design mentality of the era that eschewed redundancy in favor of sleekness. The answers were at the ready for anyone who wanted to find them — which obviously did not include DFL leaders in Minnesota.
I hope that Sixth CD voters remember that when they consider Tinklenberg against current Rep. Michele Bachmann in nine days. Hopefully, we’ll remember it when Klobuchar runs for re-election in 2012 — and maybe Tim Pawlenty might consider reminding us by running against her. JRoosh has more at Shot in the Dark.