What Minneapolis didn't learn (but should have) from an Ohio bridge collapse

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minny%20bridge.jpg Look, we’re sorry we unleashed Jim Brown upon the nation. But this time, Ohio shouldn’t be blamed for the negligence of others. A story in yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune wonders aloud if the buckling of our state’s I-90 bridge 12 years ago was a warning sign that failed to go off. In 1996, structural engineers blamed the failure of some steel gusset plates for the buckling of the I-90 bridge over the Grand River, forcing it to shut down for five months. But nobody told Minnesota – or, in all likelihood, anyone else -- about the dangers of corroding steel gusset plates. Of course, a decade later, a Minneapolis bridge fell into the Mississippi, killing 13 people and injuring 145. “It is unclear exactly what MnDOT officials knew about the Ohio incident,” the Star Tribune writes, although it seems pretty clear: not enough. ... The culprit of the Minnesota collapse hasn’t officially been determined, but it’s pretty clear it was the failure of similar gusset plates, combined with 287 tons of construction equipment on the bridge at the time of collapse. That leaves Minnesotans reason to be pissed that the findings of the Ohio I-90 failure didn’t get passed around. Seemingly, a simple mass email to transportation officials – “Yo, keep those bulldozers off the old bridges, guys” -- could have saved some presumably pleasant folks from dying a Jerry Bruckheimer-style death. The article goes on to examine why there was no head’s up: “According to interviews and documents, the Ohio incident received federal review, was discussed in open forums and led to changes in Ohio. But the federal government's finding that ‘the design thickness of the gusset plate was marginal, at best’ never resulted in the kind of nationwide technical alert that followed a similar finding last year in the investigation of the I-35W bridge collapse.” So you get the sense that Ohio did its part to address concerns here and get the word out to the proper agencies. As for getting the word out to every other state in the union with steel-gusset-plated bridges, that’s the job of the eds. But they’re not the best at PR, so it took a monstrous collapse to motivate nationwide inspections – sadly, a little too late for Minneapolis. – Bradley Campbell

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