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I-35 Bridge: A Moment of Silence With A Memo from MnDOT

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 07/31/09 05:19, Edited: 07/31/09 05:31

by Dave Mindeman

Just making it under the 2 year deadline, the State of Minnesota has filed suit against bridge inspector, URS. As I mentioned back on July 9th the URS/MnDOT relationship is a very curious one....and apparently it's turning sour.

A URS spokesman reacted strongly Thursday to the lawsuit. "It is disappointing that the state of Minnesota has chosen to sue URS, especially in light of the state's earlier admissions that URS is not responsible for the bridge collapse," said Ronald Low, a company spokesman. "We intend to vigorously defend ourselves."

Tomorrow marks the 2nd Anniversary of that tragic day. A lot of questions still remain and as I have contended all along, the only avenue that will bring out the truth will be the myriad of civil suits that are pending. With the filing of this suit, a "new" memo has been released:

But the state's suit also included a potentially revealing memo from URS.

"We will not calculate actual capacities of all of the connections since that is too much work, although that provides the most accurate results,'' the firm wrote in March 2006. "Instead, we will do some approximate but conservative adjustments to the member capacities per [the] design specifications."

The suit also reports that a note from an internal URS meeting in 2005 states, "Gusset Plate Buckling -- If this occurs, it is not catastrophic."

That memo seems to be a fairly damaging admission by URS that they did not do the hard data on load capacity....as well as a direct reference to Gusset Plate Buckling. As the lawsuits unfold, MnDOT will certainly want that memo to be front and center for their defense. They can say that they had "assurances" that gusset plate problems would not be catastrophic.

However, on the other hand, this could open up the trail of e-mails that URS has been stingy with over the course of this investigation. Their "silence" on the matter is about to change.

This is interesting for another reason as well.

The NTSB Board that investigated the I-35 Collapse is undergoing a complete changeover. Three of the five members of the board have either resigned or in the process: Steven Chealander resigned quietly in late February. Kathryn O'Leary Higgins tendered her resignation on July 22nd, which will be effective in 2 days. And the Board Chairman, Mark Rosenker, who was the public face of the board during the investigation, tendered his resignation letter the same time as Higgins. He will stay on until new appointees are made by Obama....in order to maintain a quorum on the board.

A lot of the public faces that were such an integral part of the I-35 Bridge disaster are now leaving the Minnesota scene. As noted, many of the NTSB Board membes are leaving. Carol Molnau was removed as Secretary of Transportation. Doug Differt, the Deputy Commissioner of MnDOT, now works for URS. And Bob McFarlin, an assistant to the Commissioner when the bridge collapsed and later, Acting Commissioner after Molnau was removed, was passed over for the Commissioner job and now is on the Met Council.

Two years....and there is still a lot we don't know.

Tomorrow marks a quiet anniversary. A simple moment of silence at 6:05 pm will be the only reminder. But for the families that have endured, that day will never be forgotten.

And as you can see from this news article...

AP IMPACT: Bad bridges passed up for stimulus cash

..we still have not learned any lessons.

We move on into the courts. Pawlenty moves on to the national stage. What happens in the former will most certainly affect the fortunes of the latter.
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