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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

MnDOT -- Trust Must Be Earned

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 06/25/08 21:20, Edited: 06/26/08 05:15

by Dave Mindeman

"It's obvious with the bridge falling down the trust that you folks and the public has in us has diminished. I can't sit here -- you can't sit here -- and go back and forth, point by point," he said. "Please, trust us on this."
--Khani Sahebjam, MnDOT deputy commissioner.

Sorry MnDOT, trust is something you earn.

You don't get it by being evasive and stonewalling questions.
You don't get it by paying for public relations firms.
You don't get it by simply calling criticism...a political attack.

MnDOT has a trust problem. I think they know it but their responses indicate that they don't really intend to fix it. They just want us to accept what they say and move on.

Except it doesn't work that way.

One of the major points in the 12 page response letter sent to the legislature is this:

Bridge safety has not been compromised by funding considerations.

Maybe safety itself wasn't ever meant to be compromised. But, they don't offer anything that proves funding wasn't a major factor in making bridge decisions about which one gets fixed and the methods used to fix it, which has to have an indirect effect on safety.

The evidence is certainly circumstantial but hard to dismiss.

First -- the back and forth between MnDOT and URS regarding the retrofit of the I-35 Bridge centers around a choice of replating (an expensive project) vs. more inspections (only slightly increasing the budget). MnDOT contends that URS initiated the change -- the e-mail exchanges say that MnDOT wanted and demanded other choices.

Second -- Once the transportation bill was passed by overriding the Governor's veto, MnDOT has embarked on a 10 year project which includes 11 major bridge replacements among 160 bridge projects in Minnesota. Those bridges didn't just suddenly require repairs -- that heavily insinuates a huge backlog of needs.

Third -- During the bidding on the Crosstown Project, MnDOT came up with the ridiculous scheme to have the winning bidder of the project "front" the money themselves, until MnDOT could pay for it. No bids were forthcoming and the project was delayed, yet again.

Fourth -- The Wakota Bridge. A project that was bungled from the beginning, MnDOT didn't have the resources to get it fixed. Molnau sent the project out for a complete rebid...only to have the same firm that she fired, come back with the lowest bid. Virtually, the same bid they had originally offered when it became obvious the project had to be redone. Another desperate attempt to save money and deflect blame.

And the bottom line is this:

Pawlenty knew that MnDOT needed funding. His plan of more and more borrowing failed and was not politically viable. The legislature, twice put a bill on his desk -- sealed and delivered which would have given MnDOT what they needed. He put more credence in a political pledge than the needs of state transportation. That was his choice and that is fact.

Now, after all we have been through, it is hard not to make the correlation that funding is a factor in everything. They may not have intentionally compromised bridge safety in this manner, but it had an indirect effect.

Trust needs to be earned.
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Will Sen. Klobuchar Stand For The Rule of Law?

Category: Amy Klobuchar
Posted: 06/24/08 23:57

by Dave Mindeman

Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd are willing to filibuster the FISA bill if it comes to the floor with telecom immunity.

Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) released the following statement today in response to the announcement that the Senate this week will consider the compromise legislation that would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) this week.

?This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ?compromise? legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President?s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

?If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans? civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called ?compromise? legislation.?

They need 41 Senators to block the bill.

Will Amy Klobuchar stand with them?
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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....
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