Mitch Perlstein, Center for the American Experiment and consistent “No new taxes” proponent, in a column today in the StarTribune’s Opinion section:
It would have to be demonstrated, for instance, that decisions by the Minnesota Department of Transportation about what to do about the bridge — whether to repair it, how to repair it, when to repair it — were made on the basis of what such steps might cost. But I know of no evidence that money played any role in determining what state officials or anyone else did or didn’t do in maintaining the bridge.
StarTribune front page news story, same metro edition:
Dorgan and senior engineer Gary Peterson denied in interviews that money was a factor in deciding what to do with the Interstate 35W bridge, which was not due for replacement until 2022. They provided a written timeline showing that MnDOT supervisors on Nov. 1, 2006, funded the reinforcing project for $1.5 million, with work to begin in January 2008.
But at least three internal documents suggest that money was a consideration.
On using cost/benefit analysis in determining whether to repair or replace the bridge:
Likewise, to draw any suspect connection between the collapse and the consistent preference of large numbers of Minnesotans to hold the line on taxes, one would have to assume that inspectors and other officials charged with protecting and serving allowed anything other than their professionalism to determine how they gauged the sturdiness and fragility of the state’s infrastructure. Without a morsel of evidence that any of them compromised their integrity, it’s slanderous to imply that any of them did.
Earlier, when MnDOT and its consultants were zeroing in on reinforcing the bridge, an internal MnDOT “investment strategy” meeting was held on July 24, 2006, in which officials debated various approaches.
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The “risk” of that approach was described this way: “Must pay approximately 2 million dollars to get the job done.”
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A logistics and financial issue also was discussed. MnDOT officials said that if the bridge was simply inspected, the benefit would be: “Don’t have to pay for steel, stockpile steel, or install steel.”
On the timing of repairs:
And then, of course, even if Pawlenty broke his no-tax pledge 20 minutes after taking office in 2003, and even if MnDOT’s budget doubled in a single bound, does anyone really believe that federal, state and local bureaucracies would have moved fast enough so that anything other than maybe talking about a new 35W bridge would have happened by now?
The men and women whose job was to ensure the safety of Bridge 9340 were meeting once again. Just after noon on Dec. 6, they filed into a conference room in Roseville to divvy up the final prep work for a dangerous steel reinforcement project high above the Mississippi River.
A senior engineer was going to pull property records in order to contact landowners beneath the bridge. Detours were coming for West River Road. The Coast Guard was about to get heaps of paperwork on what tasks would be done from the river channel. Truck drivers would soon learn of pending weight restrictions.
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• Jan. 17, 2007 The turning point occurs during a conference call. Dorgan and staff opt for inspection only. He says the decision is based on URS assurances that inspectors can detect and isolate cracks before they reach a dangerous length.
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“We regret the additional work this has caused you and others in the district,” Peterson wrote in an e-mail, “but I’m sure you agree that based on this new information it [is] appropriate that we postpone the project until we can determine if another option may [be] as safe and a more cost effective approach.”
On the long-term results here:
….if we got our priorities straight, enough money would be freed to adequately build what we really need and maintain what we have.
News story, quoting State Bridge Engineer Dan Dorgan:
“You can’t help but ask yourself … what should have been done differently,” he said. “As an engineer you can’t be at peace until the cause is found. And even then I have doubts that will bring peace.”