Minnesota Bridge Collapsed Due to LBJ-Era Design Flaw

It wasn't long after the fatal Minnesota bridge collapse on I-35 last summer that the liberal media jumped on the tragedy as a way to bash President Bush and the spending priorities of the Bush administration. Keith Olbermann suggested that Iraq war spending was to blame and Mike Barnicle, subbing for Chris Matthews on "Hardball" wondered if it gave Democrats political ammunition for growing the size of government.

Of course, this hardly was shocking for seasoned bias busters like our own Tim Graham, who noted parallels with media bias following a 1989 bridge collapse in San Francisco.

But now the investigation into the August bridge collapse is complete and it turns out that the seeds of the tragedy were planted in the 1960s when the bridge was built during the LBJ Era of massive social and defense spending with the Great Society and Vietnam respectively.

From a January 15 article by AP's Frederic J. Frommer:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal investigators have identified a design flaw as the cause of last year's Interstate 35W Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured about 100, a congressional official said Tuesday.

The official, who was briefed by the National Transportation Safety Board, said that investigators found a design flaw in the bridge's gusset plates, which are the steel plates that tie steel beams together. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt an update being provided later Tuesday by the NTSB chairman, Mark V. Rosenker.

Matthew Wald of the International Herald Tribune also noted inspectors who lay the blame on origin design, not a lack of proper maintenance.:

"This is not a bridge-inspection thing," said one investigator. "It's calculating loads and looking at designs." The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the investigators' findings before the announcement Tuesday.

Saying it was not clear whether other bridges might have the same flaw, the investigator said, "This could well be a one-off thing. But you don't know that."


The I-35W bridge was of a type called "fracture critical," meaning that the failure of any major member would cause a collapse, because it had no redundancy. The design is lighter and less expensive to build but has gradually fallen out of favor with highway departments. Investigators in the Minneapolis case said it took time to locate all the design information on the bridge, partly because of its age.Structural analysis is easier now, though, than it was when the bridge was built, because of the improvement in computers.

So it turns out that the bridge was poorly designed from the get-go and it took 40 years for that poor design to yield a tragedy. Not that I'd think it's appropriate or fair, of course, but something tells me I shouldn't expect to see Keith Olbermann issue an apology and then go on to rail against LBJ's profligate spending on the Great Society and Vietnam in a quest for a political scapegoat.

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