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Action On Infrastructure Still Elusive and Still Neglected

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 08/02/12 06:56

by Dave Mindeman

Five years ago one of the most horrific events ever to occur in Minnesota happened - the I-35 bridge collapse.

In the 5 years that has ensued, have we done what is needed to ensure the safety of the travelling public? The answer is not really.

Oh, we have made improvements....

When the Minnesota bridge collapsed in 2007, approximately 25.4 percent of the nearly 600,000 bridges in the U.S. were considered either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to the DOT. By 2011, the number dipped to 23.8 percent, still leaving nearly 150,000 bridges in the same categories.

But we still do not act with the urgency required to maintain our infrastructure. Congress does not act. There is a lot of self serving rhetoric and a lot of ribbon cutting for new bridges, but the nuts and bolts of maintenance is just not politically attractive enough to cause action.

Five years ago, 13 people died because of that. Sure, the NTSB whitewashed the incident into a "design flaw", but the bridge was classified "structurally deficient" for some time before the final collapse and there is a myriad of evidence that inspections gave clear indications that repairs were needed, yet put off for more "urgent" concerns. The system failed the victims.

In Minnesota, we continue to fall behind on MnDOT's budget. Billions of dollars in projects get scheduled and delayed. We complain about the summer construction season, but the truth is that we should be doubling what we are doing now.

A few years ago Republicans in the legislature punished members of their own caucus who dared vote in the interests of state infrastructure rather than follow a no new tax pledge. And that occurred only a short time after the bridge failure.

Is our politics always going to be that short-sighted? Do we have to have another horrible tragedy to take serious action?

The answer still comes up...I don't know.

comments (0) permalink

URS Comes To Lobby the Governor

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 05/01/12 01:53

by Dave Mindeman

OK - let's put everything else on hold. Governor Dayton is supposed to have a meeting with the CEO of URS. That's URS - the inspector of the I-35 bridge....the one that collapsed. And also the designer of the Sabo Bridge that recently had support cables fail. Yes, this is the company that has the audacity to send its CEO in to "lobby" our governor for more contracts.

They sent a letter to explain their position....

In a letter to the Governor on Friday, a top URS official in Minnesota said that company employees in Minnesota ?grieved for the loss of our fellow citizens when the bridge fell ? it was a tragedy that deeply affected our community and its impacts are still felt today. ?However, we, URS, did not design or build the I-35W bridge, nor were we involved in any of the construction work, including the resurfacing being done when the bridge collapsed,? said Tom Bader, vice president and Minneapolis office manager for URS.

No... URS did not design the bridge. No.. URS did not do any of the construction work.

But they did do a complete inspection of that bridge.

Memos came forward during the civil suit...

Despite URS photographs from 2003 of "bowed gusset plates, an engineering red flag," the firm declined to thoroughly analyze the plates, claiming it was "too much work," the memo said.

or this...

One key to the plaintiffs' case for punitive damages may be the comments of retired MnDOT engineer Don Flemming, who worked for URS at the time of the collapse. Flemming told his boss on Sept. 1, 2006, that he was concerned URS project engineer Ed Zhou was "trying a little too hard" to tell MnDOT the bridge was safe when "it is clearly overstressed by design standards."

and faulty analysis....

URS chose a range of 75 degrees Fahrenheit, while the code required a 150-degree range, the memo said. "Because use of such a limited temperature range did not accurately reflect stresses on the coldest and hottest days in Minneapolis, URS' choice was not safe," the memo said.
The firm overstated the strength of the bridge and told the state the gussets were in "good condition," the document said
.

And yes, you read it right....Don Flemming was a former MnDOT engineer that was working for URS at the time. Doug Differt was a deputy commissioner at MnDOT....he went to work for URS.

So now, URS is sending its CEO to convince Governor Dayton that URS, with this deeply suspicious background in Minnesota, should be given the opportunity to do more construction work in this state.

Save the corporate jet money, Mr. Martin Koffel, CEO. Stay home.


comments (3) permalink

Rep. Tilberry Is Right - No URS Contracts

Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 04/27/12 00:59

by Dave Mindeman

Rep. Tom Tilberry asks a very pertinent question. Why is URS being considered for another transportation contract? And I ask the question, why do we keep allowing this cozy MnDOT/URS connection to continue?

A number of MnDOT employees have been on the URS payroll. It is almost like a revolving door. And the I-35 Bridge (that collapsed) inspection offers a host of unanswered questions to this day. After the post in the link above, Minnesota did sue URS....getting it filed just a few days before the statute of limitations ran out.

One year later they settled that suit for the paltry sum of $5 millon. It is still insulting on its face. But then, they had to make it look good. After all, it looks like they still want to do "business" with a firm that seems to have MnDOT as its personal sugar daddy. Although, in the Southwest Rail contract they have added the Met Council to their list.

The company paid $52.4 million in settling lawsuits with the victims...never admitting any wrongdoing. But are now up for a $100 million Southwest Rail engineering contract. And who knows how many others might end up in the works.

I have a very cynical view of all this. I think URS had the ultimate lobbying group....former MnDOT employees on their payroll. And they also had the advantage during the I-35 Bridge collapse to have a political atmosphere (via Tim Pawlenty) that wanted to keep the blame on faulty design and not blame anyone (certainly not the administration) for not following up on inspection questions or for their acceptance of easier monetary band-aids that wouldn't ruffle budgets.

Rep. Tilberry has it right. URS should not be doing business with the state of Minnesota. The history is too painful.
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