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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

MnDOT: An Endemic Failure to Communicate

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 06/18/08 22:53, Edited: 06/18/08 22:59

by Dave Mindeman

Maybe some of the mystery can be explained.

I am following up on yesterday's post about the I-35 Bridge and the HNTB report that involved both the Ventura/Tinklenburg and Pawlenty/Molnau administrations. I had questioned how this report could have sat unnoticed by both administrations.

However, yesterday the Tinklenburg campaign sent me a timeline that gives an outline of how events happened as they understood them based on what they know and what was involved in the Gray Plant Mooty report to the legislature.

I reprint it here as it was sent to me:

*January 1999:* El Tinklenberg appointed MnDOT Commissioner.

*May 1999:* MnDOT?s Central Bridge office enters into contract with University of Minnesota to study possible fatigue in the 35W Bridge?s deck truss. The University study looks at three factors: 1) Is there fatigue cracking? 2) Is there potential for fatigue cracking? 3) Should action be taken (retrofitting or further inspection) to address fatigue concerns?

*March 2001:* The University issues its report, stating that fatigue
cracking is not expected for the remainder of the bridge's estimated use. All recommendations from the report are followed by MnDOT.

*October 2001:* HNTB approaches MnDOT Central Bridge office with an unsolicited proposal to study the 35W Bridge's redundancy. HNTB proposal never makes it higher than the Central Bridge office.

*October 2002:* El Tinklenberg leaves MnDOT.

*January 2003:* Carol Molnau appointed MnDOT Commissioner.

*March 2003:* MnDOT issues Request for Interest regarding an inspection of the bridge's superstructure (identify areas of concern for fatigue and what should happen should a high-risk area fail, decipher repair methods, and determine the best way to stage a deck replacement with possible stresses to the bridge. Both HNTB and URS responded to the RFI. URS was selected.

This timeline has two references to the "Central Bridge Office". In a May 22, 2008 Minnpost report by G.R. Anderson about the Gray Plant Mooty report, the Central Bridge Office is referred to in this manner:

In fact, inspectors didn't document much at all; the investigation revealed, somewhat unbelievably, that "MnDOT operates largely as an oral culture," according to the report. This is compounded by fact that MnDOT has a "Central Bridge" office in Oakdale, but the 35W bridge also was located in the "Metro District"?it wasn't entirely clear who knew what about the bridge, who told whom, and who was supposed to do something about it.

That may explain why the HNTB report got buried. It was never passed up the ladder. And if that is the case, there was probably never much chance that the Pawlenty administration would have been aware of it either.

Yet, in 2003, MnDOT issued a request for firms to make their case for inspection on the bridge....HNTB was one of them. Wouldn't logic dictate that HNTB would make their bid with at least a reference to the fact that they had made a preliminary evaluation 1 to 2 years before?

Yet, "URS was selected".

Tinklenburg was basing his decisions on the University of Minnesota study that seemed to minimize any immediate problems for the bridge. This timeline states, "All recommendations from the report are followed by MnDOT".

There was probably no reason to be looking for anything else to follow up that study, even though the HNTB report came into the Bridge Office shortly after that.

However, it is little disconcerting that this report could sit unnoticed for years while discussions about the bridge continue through several cycles.

The Grant Plant Mooty report pointed out problems with MnDOT procedures (again form the Minnpost report):

? MnDOT policies were not followed in critical respects.
? Decision-making responsibility was diffuse and unclear.
? Financial considerations may have adversely affected decision-making.
? Expert advice was not used effectively.
? MnDOT did not follow its own policies with respect to reporting the deteriorating condition of the bridge and did not document inspection report findings
? MnDOT did not sufficiently consider the impact of the 2007 construction activities.

Over the years, MnDOT reforms have been talked about and promises made by various people. Has anything improved?

Maybe this can best be described with a line from the movie "Cool Hand Luke":

"What we have here is a failure to communicate!"

comments (1) permalink

I-35 Bridge: Sins of Omission and Commission?

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 06/18/08 05:22

by Dave Mindeman

Recently, the Residual Forces blog had a post about El Tinklenburg entitled, "What Did Tinklenberg Know, And When Did He Know It?". He points out that Tinklenburg was transportation commissioner when a Kansas City firm, HNTB, had sent an unsolicited report in 2000 and 2001 about the I-35 Bridge. That report and its memos talked about the I-35 bridge gusset plates and the need for reenforcement.

Gary Gross, a blogger at Let Freedom Ring, followed up on that post, with one of his own (Tinklenberg Vetoed Fixing I-35 Bridge?), discussing the same issue. He follows the time line which clearly shows that Mr. Tinklenburg was the person in charge as MnDOT Commissioner at the time the HNTB reports were submitted...and the ultimate decision maker at the time. Gross concludes with this:

It?s obvious that Elwyn Tinklenberg wasn?t held accountable during his time as Transportation Commissioner. It?s time that he was held accountable for his ineptitude. If he?d done his job, the I-35W Bridge collapse might?ve been avoided.

Tinklenburg does have some accountability to assume in this matter, but Aplikowski and Gross conveniently left out a key part of the Star Tribune article they base this on:

Documents released to the Legislature show that HNTB's preliminary report sat for more than a year before MnDOT decided to formally award a contract to study the bridge.

When it did so in 2003, MnDOT chose URS, which only a short time before had hired Don Flemming, formerly the longtime state bridge engineer at MnDOT.

It is mysterious why the HNTB's documents sat there with no follow-up when Tinklenburg was in charge. But those documents were still in that file when the ultimate decision to inspect the bridge was made in 2003...with Pawlenty as Governor, Carol Molnau as the new MnDOT commissioner, and engineer Doug Differt as Deputy Commissioner.

Now, why did the Pawlenty administration choose URS over HNTB, which already had an unsolicited analysis in the bridge file? Could it be, as the Star Tribune article suggests, because Don Flemming might have been lobbying for his firm to get the contract?

MnDOT's ongoing relationship with URS after that is also a curiousity. Don Flemming left MnDOT to join URS. In 2003, URS gets the inspection project. When Doug Differt, Deputy Commissioner retires in early 2007, he is immediately hired by URS also. Pretty strong ties.

Yet, even URS had recommended some steel plate reenforcement for the gussets when they completed their inspection.

URS made three recommendations in January 2007:
1. Add redundant plating over the most critical 52 truss members,
2. Conduct a visual examination of all suspected weld details and remove measurable defects at suspected weld details of all 52 fracture critical truss members, or,
3. Do a combination of both 1) and 2).

However, the Pawlenty administration rejected the first recommendation stating:

"that drilling holes to attach the steel plates would weaken the bridge."

Instead, the administration went with the more benign and less costly recommendation of "more inspections".

Both the Ventura and Pawlenty administrations had culpability in this matter. Ventura and Tinklenburg committed the sin of omission. They sat on the report without following up. Pawlenty and Molnau's sin was one of commission. They made the decision about choosing the inspector, ignoring the report already there. They decided how the final report would be handled. They were in charge when the bridge ultimately collapsed.

Should someone be blamed? Should everyone be blamed? I guess the public will have to ultimately decide...but they should be given all the facts first.
comments (2) permalink

Putting the Vice in Vice President

Category: Presidential Politics
Posted: 06/17/08 16:33

by Dave Mindeman

Here is a new name to add to the GOP Veep sweepstakes!

View website here

He?s young.

He?s from the south.

He?s a social conservative.

He?s a confirmed hypocrite.

In other words, he?s the perfect Republican Party vice presidential candidate in 2008

Satire, people, satire.
comments (0) permalink


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