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November 10, 2007


Now that's what I call "Minnesota nice."

Right after Bridge Collapse, Bernhard at Moon of Alabama post some video clips of it as it occurred. I scanned thru these many times and was convinced that charges were placed, causing instantaneous removal of key support points.

The bridge fell straight down, all three? sections of it in quick succession. Sound familiar?

Key person was out of town and stayed away for awhile. Sound familiar?

Sara - For anyone who likes figuring out how things work or fall apart, this is an excellent little book. It contains case studies that each present a real problem - the collapse of the Kansas City Hilton suspended walkway is one of them - and then goes through the problem-solving process to determine the cause.

In every case, the cause of the failure was not what it appeared to first glance.


The Pawlenty administration has also retained its own consulting engineering firm to analyze the bridge failure, in parallel with the NTSB. They are also stonewalling the requests to release what information they do have to the plaintiffs' attorneys. Curious, isn't it? Perhaps they already know that they're not going to like what the federal agency's experienced investigators are going to conclude, and are positioning themselves to create an 'alternate reality' in true Republican fashion.

Also, MN DoT rush-rushed to sign and seal a controversial contract with the consortium that was not only the high bidder, but offered the longest lead time. Work has started, and attorneys for at least two other bidders who are contesting the award are appealing directly to the MN Supreme Court the denial of a stop order that they tried and failed to get in Ramsey County (St. Paul) district court. We live in more interesting times than usual here.

For all you conspiracy theorists out there:

Gravity will *always* pull something in a straight line down.
When you find something that falls sideways for no apparent reason, then you start looking for other causes.
Structures are *designed* to fall straight down. You don't want them going sideways onto the neighbors. It's messy, in several different ways.
Go get some popular books on structures (I like Why Buildings Stand Up, and Why Buildings Fall Down is also good) for more about stability and design.

Rapt -- I don't think it fell straight down. We are probably a year away from the NTSB analysis and report, and the State and another private group are doing others, and they are no where near being finished. They work by taking all possibilities into account, and then by a process of analysis and elimination, they work toward what actually fits the empirical evidence. Most folk these days think it had to do with the major repaving then underway. Much flooring had been removed on one half of the bridge, much construction equiptment and material were on the bridge, resulting in very unbalanced weight distribution. One of the bearing points apparently was known to be frozen (rust and corrosion just happen in Minnesota Winters) and the combination of the maldistribution of weight plus the fozen bearing point resulted in a critical fracture. At least that is the word that seems to be first or lead hypothesis among those who are trying to comprehend it.

But they started building the new bridge last week. Finish date scheduled for December 24, 2008.

There's yet another controversial aspect of this whole affair, one that Sara touched upon tangentially when she mentioned the likelihood that Bush will veto the Federal transportation budget bill. Pawlenty wants authorization from the legislature to temporarily 'borrow' from other DoT accounts to (ahem) bridge the gap from when money will have to be disbursed to the contractors working the expedited schedule to when the promised federal revenues are actually received. The Guv is trying to fob this off as a supposedly non-controversial request, however it is anything but in view of the facts that:
- The veto threat Sara mentioned raises a very big question as to if and when those funds will be forthcoming
- The inspections done on may of the state's bridges after the collapse has revealed that many others are in serious need of repair and in some cases replacement
- Pawlenty's tax policies have starved the DoT along with most other state agencies, and many long-planned and long-delayed maintenance and upgrade projects would likely have to be put off again if the fed funds don't arrive when promised.
- The head of the DoT is, unprecedentedly, also the Lt. Governor and a person who is, arguably, woefully unqualified for that level of a management job.

The now Dem-controlled legislature is, understandably and responsibly, so far refusing to acquiesce to the Guv's request unless and until he presents a viable contingency plan to assure that the state's other transport needs will continue to be met. In the view of many legislators, it will be difficult to develop any such plan that does not address the starvation of the DoT's budget over the past five years with a tax increase.

so the director of emegency services was AWOL during an emergency ???

cuz she was spending time with her LOVER ???

does ANYBODY on this planet beside me understand the concept of MALFEASANCE ???

and how many people died while this criminal was enjoying a lover;s tryst ???

Well, I am surprised she wasn't hooking up with those other Emirs of Emergency, Kerik and Guiliani. Now that would have really rounded this story out properly.

> Gravity will *always* pull something
> in a straight line down.

Um, I have built and destroyed many truss bridge models and they almost always twist sideways from the base. Unlike the WTC (or any office building) the strength-to-weight ratio of an open truss is going to be very high and it will have the internal strength to generate a turning moment around the base if one side collapses.



the bridge fell down mainly because it was old, over utilized (traffic and weight) and finally had even more extra weight on it when the event happened. Of course this is what you would expect.

There were also design problems that futher exacerbated the actual type of collapse that occurred. It was a "design of it's time."

Wow, Jodi's so good that she gets talking points from Pawlenty as well as Bush? I'm impressed.

Anyway, for us layfolk I also recommend the Why Things [Stand up | Fall Down] books, or another one called Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by Gordon. They're pretty readable and have helpful drawings.

I can't seem to find my marks on the MN collapse at the moment, but as I recall there was much criticism of that type of bridge for heavy traffic uses, based in part on a history of similar disasters. However, there was also a well-documented history of overdue maintenance and upgrade on this particular bridge, as on thousands of bridges throughout the country. Forensic teams might not ever resolve all the questions, though frankly I'd bet that they will eventually know exactly how the collapse started. Or maybe they'll just call Jodi.

Well, one can entertain the Pat Robertson style of thesis -- that the Norsk gods who hold bridges up recognized the profound moral failures of the Republican Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the MN-DOT, and as punishment, directed that the Bridge was to fall down at precisely 6PM on an extra Hot August Evening.

I should point out that at the momenent of Collapse, the Commissioner of Transportation was in China on a trade mission (why the Commissioner of Transportation was on a State Financed Trade Mission is still not clear), and the Super well trained Emergency Manager was at, of all unRepublican places, The Kennedy School.

I assume the Norsk gods who hold up bridges are good Democratic Socialists in keeping with the dominant perspective of Scandinavians, and they were showing their anger at one of the Scandinavian colonies by causing the bridge to collapse, and illustrate the poor governing ethos of Republicans.

If Pat Robertson can get a hearing on that sort of causal statement, why not this one?

Speaking strictly as a regular old straight person, it's good to see that we heterosexuals are represented in Republican scandals. What with the kiddie porn, pedophilia and the entanglement of the wide-stance and closet queen Republicans, we adult-attracted heteros were starting to feel left out. Many thanks to Sonia Pitt for reassuring us that we are still represented in the halls of scandal.

Thanks Sara for an as per usual great post.

Regarding "the bridge fell down mainly because it was old...."

I-35W Mississippi River Bridge was completed in 1967.

Hey Cranky, am I correct in assuming that most US Bridges were completed before 1967?

lemondloulou ,

I know Bush of course though not the other, but haven't heard either of the gentlemen speak about the bridge. Maybe they picked it up from me, or maybe they are just stating the obvious like I am.

you are correct about most US Bridges being old, and that is why most are in need of refurbishing or replacement.

No Jodi, the fact that a bridge is old is not alone a problem. The issue is about constant investment in the maintence of infrastructure, and when inspections indicate a problem, then it is scheduled for either repair or replacement. There are plenty of Bridges around that are perhaps 100 years old, and they are regularly inspected, (with qualified inspectors), and the findings are available for public and legislative inspection.

When inspection budgets get slashed and the details of these are withheld from legislators and the public, as has been the case with the Pawlenty Administration (He is Minnesota's Republican Governor, supposedly on the VP list, so you should get to know him), then the way is open for cover-up of reality that leads to disasters. Anyhow, all this costs money, and closing bridges or restricting traffic on them for repairs is not something many people find much more than an irritation. When a Governor is more responsive to a DC anti-Tax Lobby, such as Grover Nordquist, than he is to even many Republicans in the Legislature, and systematically vetoes budget for inspections and repair, then we have problems. So what he now is dealing with is business having to absorb the costs of all the detours (at $3.00 an gallon it is an increasing cost), significant losses of business because of traffic problems, all because of ideological pressures to hold the line on dedicated infrastructure taxes and fees.

Romance is fun in the midst of a crisis, but we got along just fine without her flying home, a little noted fact...and perhaps she realized she had little to contribute to the issue at hand.

On the day the bridge fell I pulled together the facts and memories of structural engineering class and said what do we know...the bridge was lightly loaded, half the lanes filled...bridges are over designed to handle a full load of a military convoys filled with tanks crawling bumper to bumber, and then we double or tripple the amount of material needed to hold it up as a safety factor.

The overlooked fact is that it was hot. Termal expansion of a bridge that long could use up a large portion of the strength of a steel member. If the expansion joint system is locked up during the winter the swing in temperature could have caused the overloading that resulted in failure. It is interesting to me that months latter they are finally pointing at the rusted expansion joints.

On the day of the bridge failure I called the local press and said look at the issue of heat, but I design buildings, not bridges and so they ignored me. But engineering is like life. Everybody is looking for the external reason, a rusted member and forgetting about the internal forces, that if not released can bring everything down.

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