In the political fallout following the collapse of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, one of the mainstays of MnDOT’s defense strategy was that inspections didn’t uncover a problem with gusset plates, partly because the problem was an unknown one involving bridge design rather than condition.
A legislative report a month ago, however, said MnDOT based its bridge decisions on money, the subtext being that since MnDOT was run by Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s lieutenant governor, keeping a no-new-taxes pledge was more important than fixing bridges.
Maybe. Maybe not. But documents analyzed by the Winona Daily News don’t help the Pawlenty administration much.
According to today’s story, the state bridge inspectors knew the Highway 43 bridge over the Mississippi River in Winona had badly rusted gusset plates two years ago. The bridge was closed last month.
In the Interstate Bridge reports inspectors noted missing rivets, rust forcing gussets apart and heavy section loss to corroded plates. Prior to that, MnDOT crews reinforced a single faulty gusset in 2000, according to the reports.
Inspectors “have been noticing corrosion and pack rust on that bridge for awhile,” said MnDOT bridge inspector Eric Evens, who evaluated the Winona Bridge in 2006 and wrote one of the reports.
In the article, however, a bridge inspector says gusset plates are looked at differently now than they were before last August.
The leaders who ran MnDOT during its most troubled times are now gone. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau was deposed as transportation commissioner earlier this year. Her #2, Bob McFarlin, has just submitted his resignation.
Some of the most strident DFLers in the political debate seem to be dismissing the political aspect of the failings of Minnesota bridges, leaving it to the new MnDOT team to determine how many rusty gussets are out there.