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Minneapolis Bridge Collapse, Crumbling Infrastructure Discussed at Congressional Hearing

Sep 6, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Construction workers on the collapsed Minneapolis Bridge were doing the wrong job.  That is what one construction industry expert told members of Congress at a hearing called to investigate the I-35 W Bridge collapse, as well as the poor state of the country’s long-neglected roads and bridges.

Donald Kaniewski, legislative and political affairs director for the National Construction Alliance, a coalition of trade unions that included the union that represented the construction crew working on the Minneapolis Bridge the day it collapsed, said that rather than working to resurface the doomed structure, construction crews should have been replacing the Minneapolis Bridge.  Construction worker Gregory Jolstad had been working on the I-35 W Bridge at the time of the disaster.  His was the final body removed from the Mississippi River.

But a representative from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) cautioned lawmakers not to jump to conclusions regarding the I-35 W Bridge collapse.    Dean Dorgan, a bridge engineer for MNDOT, told lawmakers that he did not believe structural fatigue was at the root of the Minneapolis Bridge collapse.   MNDOT has been under fire recently for deciding to repair, rather than replace, the structurally deficient I-35 W Bridge.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Mark Rosenkar testified that it could be more than a year before a final report into the Minneapolis Bridge collapse is issued by investigators.  He said that much of the I-35 W Bridge’s steel truss is still in the river and needs to be recovered.  He said that the investigation is still in its early stages, but that the state of the Minneapolis Bridge’s steel gusset plates where still a concern. In the early days of the I-35 W Bridge collapse investigation, reports surfaced that NTSB investigators were looking at possible design flaws in those gusset plates.  

The committee also heard testimony regarding solutions to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, a problem brought into focus by the tragic Minneapolis Bridge collapse.  The committee was told that 1 in 8 US bridges is deemed structurally deficient, and that a major source of funding must be found to repair them.  Representative Jim Oberstar (D-Minn) has proposed a 5-cent a gallon gasoline tax to raise funds for bridge and road repair.  The federal gasoline tax, which stands at 18.3 cents per gallon, has not been increased since 1993.  Oberstar’s proposal is supported by the US Chamber of Congress, the American Trucking Association and many senior transportation officials in other states.  

But the proposal to increase the gasoline tax is getting little support from the Bush Administration or Republican members of Congress.  Representative John Mica (R-Fl) called Oberstar’s proposal a “knee jerk” reaction to the Minneapolis Bridge collapse.   And President Bush’s Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said that a tax increase would “likely do little, if anything, to address the quality or performance of our roads.”

But Minneapolis Mayor RT Ryback said he supported a gasoline tax increase, saying that the country does not spend enough on roads and bridges.  “I say this as the mayor of a city recovering from a tragedy that is not an act of God,” Ryback said.   “It was a failure of Man.”


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