Aug. 1, 2007
Crews were still looking for the injured from the collapse of bridge 9340 when the finger pointing of who might be to blame began. Former Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, a Democrat, was on WCCO-AM saying that budget cuts had curtailed the DOT's ability to do complete bridge inspections. A few hours later Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who had vetoed the transportation bill two years in a row, was telling the media that the bridge had checked out just fine when inspected in 2005 and 2006.
A MN DOT document from March 2006 indicated that the bridge was scheduled for repairs in 2006, but it was removed from the schedule because it would be more efficient to do the work in 2007. One of the questions that needs to be answered is if budget constraints were the cause of delaying the repairs.
If the lack of funding for bridge repairs and inspections had anything to do with the collapse of the 35W bridge and the loss of life it caused, it has the potential to be a political landmine for Governor Pawlenty and those legislators who voted to support his transportation bill veto.
The cause of the collapse and the answer to the question "could this have been avoided" make take some time to determine. The National Transportation Safety Board has been called in. There is likely to be investigations on the state level as well.
Inside Minnesota Politics has obtained the 89-page report of bridge 9340's inspection in 2001. In it, there are perhaps some hints of what may have brought the bridge down.
The report recommended inspecting certain parts of the bridge every two years as was the custom. But it specified the parts that had "high stress ranges" should be inspected every six months.
What's not known tonight is if those inspections were carried out as planned, or if budget cuts prevented them.
The 2001 inspection also noted that "The bridge's deck truss has not experienced any fatigue cracking, but it has many poor fatigue details on the main truss and the floor truss system. The research helped determine that the fatigue cracking of the deck truss is not likely, which means the bridge should not have any problems with fatigue cracking in the foreseeable future."