By MANIFESTO JOE
At first it seemed like one of those nasty and inevitable things one encounters in the news regularly: Monsoon and mudslide drowns and buries 3,000 in Bangladesh, 100 drown as Indonesian ferry sinks, Kansas tornado destroys entire town, California earthquake kills 7, and so forth, on a diminishing scale. But now, this piece of nastiness looks like something that could have been avoided if some people had just been doing their jobs.
This today from AP:
"MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge that plummeted into the Mississippi River was 'structurally deficient,' yet they relied on a strategy of patchwork fixes and stepped-up inspections.
" 'We thought we had done all we could,' state bridge engineer Dan Dorgan told reporters not far from the mangled remains of the span. 'Obviously something went terribly wrong.'
"Questions about the cause of the collapse and whether it could have been prevented arose Thursday as authorities shifted from rescue efforts to a grim recovery operation, searching for bodies that may be hidden beneath the river's swirling currents.
"The official death count from Wednesday's rush-hour collapse stood at four, with another 79 injuries. But police said the death count would surely grow because bodies had been spotted in the water and as many as 30 people were still reported missing.
"In 1990, the federal government gave the I-35W bridge a rating of 'structurally deficient,' citing significant corrosion in its bearings. The bridge is one of 77,000 bridges in that category nationwide, 1,160 in Minnesota alone.
"The designation means some portions of the bridge needed to be scheduled for repair or replacement, and it was on a schedule for inspection every two years.
"Dorgan said the bearings could not have been repaired without jacking up the entire deck of the bridge. Because the bearings were not sliding, inspectors concluded the corrosion was not a major issue.
"During the 1990s, later inspections found fatigue cracks and corrosion in the steel around the bridge's joints. Those problems were repaired. Starting in 1993, the state said, the bridge was inspected annually instead of every other year.
"A 2005 federal inspection also rated the bridge structurally deficient, giving it a 50 on scale of 100 for structural stability.
"White House press secretary Tony Snow said while the inspection didn't indicate the bridge was at risk of failing, 'If an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions.' "
Well, at least Tony Snow is doing his job.
I can't help but think that if the U.S. government had been paying attention to our crumbling infrastructure -- trying to maintain a decent system here, instead of giving tax bonanzas galore to the wealthy and sending our armed forces off to ill-fated foreign adventures -- a tragedy like this could have been avoided.
Instead, we get Tony Snow passing the buck back to the states. I suppose this is what comes of entrusting the levers of government to people who are ideologically hostile to it in the first place. Sort of brings back memories of New Orleans.
Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.