Learning from a Tragedy
Last week Minnesotans marked the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge, which killed 13 people, injured 140 and left its survivors scarred for life. The rest of us are lucky that solemn observances haven't been the only reactions to the tragedy.
Barely six months afterward, a bipartisan state Legislature overrode then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty's third veto of bills to raise Minnesota fuel taxes, which support highways and bridges only, for the first time since 1988. The multibillion-dollar transportation finance bill earmarked 120 deficient state highway bridges for repair or replacement by 2018, and already that job is nearly two-thirds finished.
"To date, 65 of those bridges have been done, and another 12 will be completed by the end of the year," state Transportation Commissioner Thomas Sorel wrote in an Albert Lea Tribune commentary. "And the program is on track to meet its completion goals."
Sorel noted several other safeguards adopted by his agency to reduce the chances of a repeat disaster:
- "MnDOT has increased bridge maintenance staff and modified our inspection efforts to ensure that bridges are ... repaired in a timely fashion."
- "We integrate bridge inspection information and maintenance work. This allows us to plan and prioritize our maintenance needs and ... assess the benefit of the work."
- "MnDOT now hires separate engineering firms to review bridge designs ... to minimize the risk of critical design error like the one that caused the 1-35W bridge to fail. We've also changed policies regarding storage of material on bridges under construction to ensure that the structure is not overloaded."
Sorel also said the fast-track replacement of the fallen span produced "a strong and stable structure that will serve the state for a century," 60 years longer than the old bridge lasted. "And the lessons learned constructing that bridge will be used on other structures in Minnesota as well as around the nation."
Finally, he noted the importance of continuing "our commitment to build a safe, dependable, high-quality transportation system through innovation, integrity and accountability." If that truly comes to passes, the 35W bridge victims won't have suffered and died in vain.