Why the Right is So Panicked About Politicizing 35W

The right-wing blogs in Minnesota, led by chief astroturfer Michael Brodkorb of Minnesota Democrats Exposed (longstanding personal policy of not linking to the guy, sorry), have been apoplectic about the possibility that someone, somewhere might “politicize” the collapse of the 35W Mississippi River Bridge. Now, let’s leave aside that the amount of time they spent hand-wringing about politicization ultimately amounted to politicizing the issue. The fact is that this is, of course, a political issue. As my good friend Spot says:
But according to Michael Brodkorb, it is just so unfair to blame an administration that has stymied virtually every effort to increase transportation funding. It’s not only fair, Michael, it’s accurate. And now we can see just how penny wise and pound foolish the Pepsodent administration is. The economic wreckage of the bridge collapse will dwarf the cost of just replacing the bridge, on top of the horrific loss of life.
Of course, the right rarely starts screaming about the need for Democrats to be quiet if it’s a time Democrats actually need to be quiet — and now we know why the screams of indignation on the right have been so loud. The Star Tribune is reporting tonight that the Minnesota Department of Transportation knew the Mississippi River Bridge was in dire need of repair…and didn’t act:

Structural deficiencies in the Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed Wednesday were so serious that the Minnesota Department of Transportation last winter considered bolting steel plates to its supports to prevent cracking in fatigued metal, according to documents and interviews with agency officials.

The department went so far as to ask contractors for advice on the best way to approach such a task, which could have been opened for bids later this year.

MnDOT considered the steel plating at the recommendation of consulting engineers who told the agency that there were two ways to keep the bridge safe: Make repairs throughout the 40-year-old steel arched bridge or inspect it closely enough to find flaws that might become cracks and then bolt the steel plating only on those sections.

Fears about bridge safety fueled emotional debate within the agency, according to a construction industry source. But on the I-35W bridge, transportation officials opted against making the repairs.

Officials were concerned that drilling thousands of tiny bolt holes would weaken the bridge. Instead, MnDOT launched an inspection that was interrupted this summer by unrelated work on the bridge’s concrete driving surface.

"We chose the inspection route. In May we began inspections,” Dan Dorgan, the state’s top bridge engineer, said. “We thought we had done all we could, but obviously something went terribly wrong.”
You think?

Now, those of you outside the state probably don’t know this, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation is headed by Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, Pawlenty’s running mate and heir-apparent. This will make it somewhat difficult for our governor to distance himself from the fallout that will inevitably come his way in very short order, especially since his initial statements were that the bridge had passed inspections with no reason to fear. Either Pawlenty’s own Lt. Governor was keeping him in the dark, or Pawlenty lied in the aftermath of the bridge collapse.

And this is why the right was so adamant that fingers must not be pointed, not when people are still trapped in the wreckage.

Those people — people like Sadiya Sahal — are trapped, and almost certainly dead, because of inaction by MnDOT. I’m not going to go so far as to say Tim Pawlenty has blood on his hands. But his Lt. Governor and her department have to be considered suspects at this point.

(Cross-posted from BotML)

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