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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Re: August 1, 2007: Time to Pause and Reflect

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 08/01/10 07:03, Edited: 08/01/10 07:04

by Dave Mindeman

Three years ago today a bridge fell down.

A lot has changed in the interim. Governor Pawlenty will soon be moving on to greener pastures. Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau is now "just" a Lt. Governor. One MnDOT employee was fired - but for reasons unrelated to the bridge. A modern, state of the art I-35 bridge now stands in the place of the pile of twisted metal and concrete that spanned the Misissippi River at the end of that August 1st day.

Some things have not changed. Thirteen people are still not with us and thirteen families are still coping with their loss. The 145 people injured continue to have memories that will never go away. The NTSB still has the official cause of the collapse as a "design flaw". And Minnesota transportation continues to have inadequate funding.

Oh and one more thing....USB Corporation, the bridge inspectors that once recommended re-enforcement of the old bridge only to withdraw that recommendation for "more inspections"....yes, that USB Corp still gets MnDOT contracts.

Recently, the litigation process involving the I-35 bridge has shown us that the story of the I-35 Bridge Collapse is not over. The relationship between URS and the State of Minnesota has more things to tell us and maybe a little more truth will be revealed.

At some point.....maybe.

In the meantime, it is time to pause and reflect. To understand that transportation infrastructure is not something we should take for granted. That it is not something to always focus on in the ever present rounds of budget cutting that we are now so accustomed to.

Good roads and bridges and sound maintenance are a key to Minnesota's economic future. We still have bridges classified as "structurally deficient".

They tell us that they will make sure that the August 1st tragedy on I-35 will never happen again. But then again, it is hard to believe that it could ever have happened in the first place.

But it did.
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I-35 Bridge Settlement with URS is Another Insult

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 03/20/10 12:08

by Dave Mindeman

It really is an insult.

The State of Minnesota has settled with URS on the I-35 Bridge collapse for the token amount of $5 million.

It is a deal forged by partners in crime.

URS and the State have been playing this public game of "it was your responsibility", yet have gone about business as usual in every other aspect.

Has URS lost any contracts? No. Has the flow of employees back and forth between URS and MnDOT stopped? No. Has anybody, anyone at all, been fired or even seriously reprimanded? No.

There is a very unholy alliance involved here. The $5 million token settlement is an insult to the people whose lives were changed forever on that August day.

It was put well in this quote:

"There's a close relationship between the state and URS, and [the state] didn't want to sue them to start with," said Kyle Hart, an attorney for Progressive Contractors Inc. (PCI), whose workers were atop the bridge for the repaving project when it collapsed and which earlier settled a lawsuit. "They still do business. ... People have moved back and forth between those two entities. They are very close."

Oh, URS will tell us that it has been "proven" that it wasn't their fault. And MnDOT has, on the surface and with their own "internal" investigations, absolved themselves of any negligence. But a lot of that depends on URS and MnDOT sticking together. To back up each other. Or shall we say, cover it up?

The real truth is still buried. And the spade and shovel that will bring it to the surface are the civil lawsuits. They will have to poke and prod and pry their way through it. It will be slow and painstaking, but it is a serious quest for the truth. We will never get it from the stakeholders involved, not a chance.

The taxpayers of Minnesota gave $37 million to the victims of the I-35 Bridge collapse. Even that was probably not enough, but it still said that this tragedy must be addressed. The State has a responsibility to see that they recover as much that money as they can to reimburse that fund and it should come from the responsible parties. This settlement with URS for $5 million is tokenism. It is a sweep under the rug.

In the end, it looks like the state of Minnesota will be paying the largest portion of that $37 million themselves.

And maybe in terms of fault, that is how it should be.
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I-35 Bridge: Roller Bearings an NTSB Oversight?

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 11/07/09 13:17

by Dave Mindeman

In late July, I posted about an MPR piece that discussed a report from an engineering firm hired by the attorneys involved in the I-35 Bridge lawsuits. This report was entitled:

Attorney: NTSB Is Wrong About Bridge Collapse

Here is an excerpt from that post:

But here is the important part of the article as far as I am concerned (emphasis mine):

Construction materials on the bridge at the time of the collapse put too much stress on the bridge, he said. Messerly (one of the victims attorneys) said the bridge's roller bearings were frozen, so it couldn't shift to relieve the stress.

"That was well known by the consulting agency hired by the state, and because the bridge would not expand and move with the heat, it caused this catastrophic failure," Messerly said.

Instead of shifting with the heat and weight, the beams took on the pressure, and eventually one of them, the "L9-L11 west," fractured.

Those frozen roller bearings have always troubled me. Their purpose is to "shift weight". On that day, there was an extraordinarily heavy load. Heat and weight were high....too high. The bearings were designed to spread the weight and ease the stress. But they could not function. And it was known, by inspectors for some time, that they were not functioning.

If that was their function, why wasn't it fixed? And why has it never been discussed in the official reports? The bearings had a purpose, did they not? If they were not important to the bridge, then why did they exist?

In the Pioneer Press today, the engineering firm that is the successor to the original design firm on the I-35 Bridge that collapsed has asked to have the NTSB REOPEN THE CASE!

Here is the interesting parts of that article:

That the firm is asking for such a move is not surprising. A predecessor company, Sverdrup & Parcel, was primarily blamed for the collapse, which killed 13 and injured 145. But the effort is being joined by a consortium of lawyers representing scores of victims of the Minneapolis disaster.

"Most agree now that the NTSB it got wrong," said victims attorney Chris Messerly, citing work by Boston-based engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, which was hired by the victims. "They thought the initial cause was the gusset plate, and everyone knows now it was the frozen bearings."

And this....

A steel truss structure, the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River was partly supported by large roller bearings set atop piers, which allowed the bridge to flex during hot and cold cycles, relieving tension on the bridge's steel beams and connector plates, known as gussets.
But according to state inspection reports, one of those bearings was locked. And the collapse occurred on a hot summer day, when tons of construction materials were loaded on top of the bridge as part of a resurfacing project...........They singled out a gusset known as U10, on the upriver side of the bridge, as the probable culprit. The closest roller bearing to U10 is the one state inspectors noted as frozen. "It is possible, indeed probable, that the bearings may have released suddenly, sending an impulse of energy into the truss and contributing to the failure initiation," Jacobs wrote to the NTSB, citing what it said were numerous key problems with the investigation.

I do not have any expertise in engineering but I'd like to point out that if even I could recognize the potential correlation involving those frozen roller bearings, then why didn't the NTSB investigate that more fully themselves? Why did they dismiss that as not even a partial cause?

The NTSB will resist reopening the investigation.... they will consider it an attempt to question their credibility.

But really.. can't they at least put 2 and 2 together and get 4?
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