The Rules Committee of the Minnesota state Senate has approved $250,000 for a joint committee investigation of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The House is expected to follow suit and approve an additional $250,000 for the investigation. The $500,000 will be paid to Minneapolis law firm Gray Plant Mooty, which was selected to aid the legislature in investigating the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, as well as examining the funding and management of MnDOT.
The legislature’s probe would be the fourth such investigation into the I-35W bridge collapse in addition to probes called for by Governor Pawlenty, the Office of the Legislative Auditor and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Many in the legislature are suggesting the NTSB investigation is tainted by MnDOT Commissioner Carol Molnau’s involvement. MnDOT has hired Illinois-based consultants Wiss Janney Elstner to assist the NTSB in its investigation at a cost of $2 million. As noted by The Daily Mole this morning, Jim Hoppin of The St. Paul Pioneer Press has reported that state Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan) requested an opinion from Attorney General Lori Swanson on “whether it was appropriate for MnDOT to oversee a contract for assisting an investigation that could implicate the agency itself.” Swanson has not taken any action yet.
State senator Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing) explained that while the NTSB investigates the structural cause of the bridge collapse, the joint committee will investigate whether MnDOT’s actions contributed in any way to the failure. Republicans on the Rules Committee opposed the proposal, with state Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem (R-Rochester) calling the investigation a “political witch hunt.”