The no-fault bridge collapse


No one seems willing to accept any responsibility.

The past two weeks have found the news media, both local and national, dominated by reports surrounding the collapse of the I-35W bridge across the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. There have been news conferences by the dozen, appearances of key figures on the most popular national talk shows, and pictures of the disaster displayed on TV screens throughout the world.

Opinion: The no-fault bridge collapse

Yet, no one seems willing to accept any responsibility for this calamity and our failure to avoid it despite warnings in advance.

There are many bridges across a much wider span of water than this bridge covers. There are many that have a heavier flow of traffic than this 35W bridge; and certainly there are hundreds of other much older bridges — the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and the London Bridge, to name a few.

Further, this bridge did not give way at a particular spot; instead, it was a complete collapse of the entire bridge, a bridge that seemed as solid as the rock of Gibraltar when I crossed it a couple of days prior to the collapse.

It just seems to me that considering the unlimited capacities of present-day modern technologies, constructing a bridge of reliability should not be an impossible task. And, if the unthinkable should happen, someone should accept the responsibility.

No, it’s not a matter of finding a scapegoat. But to hear a parade of high government officials and technical experts consistently declaring immunity, and then viewing the pictures of the aftermath, one feels compelled to ask this question: When federal inspections listed the bridge as “defective,” why were not immediate corrections undertaken rather than just ordering more inspections?

Actually, the responsibility for an interstate bridge lies within the jurisdiction of the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, an appointee of the governor. Needless to say, there have been charges that the appointment was one of partisan political importance rather than transportation expertise.

On the other side of the ledger, the real miracle of this whole story was the fact that of the hundreds of vehicles on the bridge at the time of its total collapse, there were just over a dozen fatalities. In addition to the many volunteer bystanders, there must have been divine intervention.

It is true that the official cause of the disaster is still under investigation, but I shudder to think of the final chapter ending with no-fault responsibility.

Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to