Who's to Blame: Cheap fiscal policies led to 35W bridge collapse


If you thought faulty gusset plates were going to exonerate Governor Tim Pawlenty and former transportation chief Carol Molnau from blame, think again.

A new report released today lays the blame squarely at the feet of cheap fiscal policies. From the AP's article:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Transportation officials' concerns that fixing or replacing a Minneapolis bridge would be a "budget buster" may have led to bad maintenance decisions before its deadly collapse last August, a report released Wednesday concluded.

The report, commissioned by the Legislature, also criticized the Minnesota Department of Transportation for bridge inspections that were mishandled or not acted upon over the years, even when they called for immediate repairs.

The department has come under sharp criticism for its upkeep of the 40-year-old Interstate 35W bridge, even as an ongoing federal investigation has highlighted a design flaw and the weight of construction materials on the bridge, rather than maintenance, as critical factors in the collapse that killed 13 people.

"Financial considerations, we believe, did play a part in the decision-making" over repair of the bridge, said Robert Stein, who oversaw the report prepared for lawmakers by the law firm Gray Plant Mooty.

This was the suspicion of City Pages authors G.R. Anderson and Paul Demko when they wrote Who's to Blame? shortly after the bridge collapse.

And this part, from the Strib's story, reminds me of life under Saddam Hussein as described by Mark Bowden:

The investigators said they found that financial considerations influenced decisions that were made about the bridge, and that decisionmakers didn't always get complete and thorough information about the bridge's condition.

"They were also not unaware of the political heat they would get [if they closed] a bridge like that," said Bruce Mooty, one of the lawyers making the presentation this morning.

Speaking of G.R. Anderson, his take on the new report was just posted at MinnPost. Here's his summary:

• MnDOT policies were not followed in critical respects. • Decision-making responsibility was diffuse and unclear. • Financial considerations may have adversely affected decision-making. • Expert advice was not used effectively. • MnDOT did not follow its own policies with respect to reporting the deteriorating condition of the bridge and did not document inspection report findings • MnDOT did not sufficiently consider the impact of the 2007 construction activities.