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MnDOT Response to Criticism? An Elaborate CYA

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 06/24/08 22:27

by Dave Mindeman

MnDOT gave its official response to the MnDOT criticisms of the Gray Plant Mooty report in the form of a 12 page letter to the legislature. I can give you a 3 letter abbreviated summation:


There are a couple of items to take special note of. Right now, I am going to discuss one item (more will follow in later posts).

From the MnDOT response letter:

Conclusions.....assert that MnDot did not follow through effectively on the advice of consultants. We respectfully disagree. MnDOT was aggressively pursuing the steel plating retrofit recommended by URS in June 2006. This was the URS recommendaton that most directly benefitted the members of the truss identified as critical for fatigue by adding internal redundancy to those members. In 2006, MnDOT scheduled the plating retrofit work recommended by URS for contract letting in late 2007.

It was only after URS notified MnDOT in December 2006 that non-destructive examination (NDE) and removal of measurable defects was an "equally viable retrofit approach" that MnDOT reconsidered the plating retrofit. URS's own internal e-mail of December 13, 2006 (Tab 104 of GPM Report) clearly shows that URS itself concluded that the plating retrofit previously recommended was unnecessary and, instead, a non-destructive examination of the truss was preferable. Once URS shared that information with MnDOT, we suspended work on developing the plating retrofit plans and adopted the new URS recommendation. Even if the retrofit were pursured, the contract for the retrofit would not have been underway until late 2007.

Alright. Let's compare this to a November 10, 2007 report in the Star Tribune.

In the days after the collapse, MnDOT said state officials and URS had mutually decided to explore other options instead of bolting steel plates to bridge sections at risk of cracking. But the documents indicate the two sides had a substantive disagreement over how to proceed.

Last December, after pushing for months to replate the bridge, URS abruptly moved closer to MnDOT's position of finding a less intensive way to ensure the bridge's structural integrity. Three weeks after a top URS official had reiterated that the chance of a bridge truss failure "should be significantly reduced" by the replating, the same official suddenly e-mailed a colleague that he no longer thought the replating was necessary.

Even the agreed-upon solution -- closer inspections -- did not proceed as URS expected. On July 19, two weeks before the bridge collapsed, URS official Don Flemming was caught by surprise when MnDOT inspected the bridge without the firm. "I saw them on the bridge, and asked if we were not going to get involved," wrote Flemming, who for 14 years had been the state's bridge engineer before being hired by URS.

MnDOT spokesperson Lucy Kender said in an e-mail that it was "completely erroneous" to conclude that the relationship between the agency and its consultant had deteriorated. A spokesman for URS declined to comment.

(Emphasis mine)

The path to the final URS report, as outlined in these two scenarios, is starkly different. MnDOT seems to be saying that URS initiated the recommendations. The e-mails that the Star Tribune investigated to come up with their report seem to indicate that MnDOT was basically stalling...waiting for the recommendation they wanted.

It should be noted that, according to the newspaper report, URS spent a significant amount of time trying to convince MnDOT to replate -- most of that time frame was in summer and fall of 2006. Was that the end of a fiscal year? URS eventually came to a recommendation that seemed to meet with MnDOT's approval. Is it significant that this recommendation would cost much less? MnDOT says no. But then CYA requires them to say no.

It is also worth noting that Don Flemming is another person with a dual relationship between URS and MnDOT -- state bridge engineer for 14 years with MnDOT and then one of the lead persons in negotiations with MnDOT for URS. There seems to be a disproportionate number of former MnDOT employees showing up on the URS payroll, don't you think? Just wondering.

Finally, we have Lucy Kender again, dutifully expounding the MnDOT official line. She is probably right that it is "completely erroneous" to think that URS and MnDOT had a deteriorating relationship -- they were "joined at the hip" regarding this inspection report. But, it should also be noted that URS decided to decline comment.

Everyone is in CYA mode....
comments (1) permalink
06/25/08 12:23
Indeed, everyone is in CYA mode ... as usual.

This is what we probably should expect in our society given:

1) We are overly litigious and far to reliant on deploying and engaging lawyers and attorneys ? this tendency does not come without a steep ? albeit hidden ? cost
2) The lack of personal accountability is big business in America ? the flames of this reality are fanned by #1 above
3) Too many things are too politicized ? everything that happens is viewed and acted upon from the lens of how to gain maximum short-term political advantage

Nuff said!



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