Jumping the gun on why the 35W bridge collapsed
It's official. The Interstate 35W bridge fell -- not because of what Tim Pawlenty or Carol Molnau did or didn't do -- but because engineers failed to calculate correctly the thickness of gusset plates more than 40 years ago.
The National Transportation Safety Board's findings, released on Nov. 14, must feel like some vindication to Pawlenty, Molnau and MnDOT's bridge inspection and maintenance team.
After the collapse, Pawlenty counseled patience. He urged Minnesotans to wait for a thorough investigation before leaping to conclusions about why the bridge fell.
Instead, critics launched a relentless -- if often subtly expressed -- search for villains to blame for what we now know was a tragic accident.
Sometimes bluntly, sometimes not, critics suggested that Pawlenty's skinflint tax policies and budgets had set the stage for the I-35W bridge tragedy. The governor's opponents maintained that he had sacrificed bridge maintenance and safety -- and thus the well-being of Minnesotans -- in an attempt to adhere to his no new taxes pledge.
Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, put it this way after the NTSB issued its report. While Pawlenty "didn't cause [the bridge] to go down," he said, the evidence shows that "very few did something to keep it up." The governor, Carlson added, "really ought to be lowering his head and saying, 'I'm sorry.'"
Molnau was the target of particularly vicious condemnation. Critics painted her as an incompetent clown who blithely superintended a bridge inspection and maintenance program that was shoddy, irresponsible and done on the cheap. . . .
My son Maxim and I had a piece last year on this issue here.