HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 13, 2007, Herald Journal

Let bridge experts do their jobs


Divers hadn’t even had a chance to recover all the bodies out of the Mississippi River after the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, before pundits and editorials were screaming that the state’s tax rate caused the disaster.

If Gov. Tim Pawlenty hadn’t vetoed the 2007 transportation funding increase, there still wouldn’t have been time nor money to prevent the bridge from falling. Most of the money would have gone to mass transit, or to roads and bridges in worse shape than the 35W bridge.

Engineers and experts on bridges will first have to examine the wreckage and analyze security cameras’ videotapes of the collapse to determine the cause of the disaster. It might not have had anything to do with the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on maintenance.

Even if it did, the problem could have developed during the term of a big-spending, high-tax governor or legislature, not the current administration.

One interesting theory that has nothing to do with taxpayers’ money involves vibrations from the train below the bridge. The traffic on the bridge was off-balance because construction workers were re-doing the bridge deck surface. The vehicles crossing the bridge were directed into one lane instead of being spread out evenly over the bridge deck.

The vibrations from the train passing beneath the bridge, and the uneven distribution of the weight on top might have set off a chain reaction.

Vibrations are surprisingly damaging. The Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge in Washington collapsed from wind-induced vibrations in 1940.

Another possibility that has nothing to do with tax dollar funding is explosives. Anarchists, protestors and demonstrators were bragging this summer about how easy it will be to disrupt traffic in the Twin Cities during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis 2008. They pointed out how all the traffic is funneled through a handful of bridges.

The very first day after the convention organizers met in Minneapolis for a planning session, the 35W bridge came down. Maybe the anarchists were showing off their power to shut down the city to the convention planners.

Another possibility is a flaw in the material from 1967 used to build the bridge. No one knew anything was wrong with it then, and up until now, the flaw was never discovered.

Of course, it’s still possible that when the experts finish their investigation, they discover the bridge was neglected by taxpayers after all. First, however, let’s allow the experts to do their jobs.