The I-35W Bridge: A Casualty of Pennies and Priorities

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A perfect example of those pennies and priorities is the $687.6-million Iraq War cost for the City of Minneapolis, and $11 billion for the State of Minnesota.(1)

The $687.6 million is more than half of the 1.3-billion 2007 Minneapolis spending budget,(2) which in turn is only about two-thirds of a $1.8-billion Bechtel National construction contract. According to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, contract objectives were met on less than half of the projects.(3)

Opinion:The I-35W Bridge: A Casualty of Pennies and Priorities

The $11 billion nearly equals the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) spending budgets for 2002 to 2007, a period which spans the war.(4) That cost is only about a fourth of the “roughly $40 billion in American taxpayer money spent on the troubled program to rebuild Iraq.”(3)

Overall, we have paid $462 billion for a fraudulent war, at a $1,500 per-capita cost.(1) Per the American Society of Civil Engineers,”27.1 percent of the nation’s 590,750 bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in 2003. A 2005 “Report Card . . . estimates it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies.”(5)

Yet Iraq War godfather “Bill Kristol claimed the Minneapolis bridge collapse didn’t ‘symbolize any great failure of our infrastructure.’ Bush said he would veto a bill that would increase the national bridge and highway maintenance budget from $4 billion to $5 billion.”(6)

Mn/DOT projected a $200-million cost to reconstruct the bridge; Congress quickly passed a $250-million bill that also funds Twin City transit costs.(7).

Per Larry Pogemiller, DFL Majority Leader of the Minnesota Senate, the “failure of this bridge metaphors the under funding of infrastructure improvement throughout the system. . . . The competency and quality of government is in question.”(8)

Per DFL Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, we have “at least a $15-billion problem” for not investing “over a 12-year construction cycle . . . an issue for the Commissioner (of Transportation, Republican Carol Molnau), people like myself, and the Governor (Republican Tim Pawlenty).”(9)

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, lead Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, replied “that even if we had passed a significant gas-tax increase (which Pawlenty twice vetoed), I’m not so sure it would have made a difference, unfortunately, in this situation . . . it’s a matter of priorities.”(8)

“John Adams, an urban geographer at the University of Minnesota, says public infrastructure like 35W has been taken for granted for decades . . . politicians have been trying to do government on the cheap.'”(10)

The monetary costs of the bankrupt Iraq War may exceed $2.3 trillion. Its unrecoverable human costs are 52 dead and 441 physically or mentally wounded Minnesotans, along with 3,398 and 25,395, respectively, from other states.(1)

Merging those costs with penny-wise, pound-foolish presidents, members of Congress, governors, state legislators, and people who support them–a shattered bridge, blocked river, choked roads, harmed companies, over 100 injured Minnesotans, at least 13 dead ones, their traumatized loved ones, and the shocked people of our state and nation–an I-35W collapse is sadly predictable but totally unacceptable.

As a tearful and angry Amy Klobuchar said: “A bridge in America just shouldn’t fall down!”(11)

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(1) “The Institute for Policy Studies: The Iraq War”
http://www.ips-dc.org/iraq/index.htm. Scroll to “State-by-state costs of the war” and select Minnesota. It also cites the estimated 43,937 to 659,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed. The numbers have increased since this was published.

(2) “Budget approval may not spare Minneapolis libraries”
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/12/11/budget/

(3) “Bechtel Meets Goals on Fewer Than Half of Its Iraq Rebuilding Projects, U.S. Study Finds”
http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14602&printsafe=1

(4) “Mn/DOT Newsline – Minnesota Department of Transportation Employee News” http://www.newsline.dot.state.mn.us/archive/07/jan/31.html#Z1

(5) “Minneapolis’ I-35 Bridge Collapse: Is Structural Failure or Metal Fatigue to Blame?”


(6) “The Progress Report, 8/6/2007” http://www.americanprogressaction.org/progressreport

(7) “Congress puts finishing touches on $250 million emergency rebuild package” http://www.startribune.com/10204/story/1343776.html

(8) “State politicians outline next steps in bridge recovery” http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/08/06/midday3/

(9) “A closer look at bridge safety” http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/08/06/midmorning1/ in audio replay. DFL stands for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota.

(10) “Was I-35 Bridge Pushed Beyond Its Design?” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12542887

(11) An 8/2/07 news conference near the bridge with U.S. Senator Klobuchar and other officials.
http://www.tpt.org/almanac/