Oberstar: NTSB chair jumped the gun on 35W findings

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Rep. Jim Oberstar, D- Minn., has delivered a strongly worded letter to National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker for announcing the cause of the I-35W bridge collapse at the NTSB’s Jan. 15 press conference, despite the fact that the board has made no such determination.

Oberstar, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, took exception when Rosenker stated that the poor design of the gusset plates was “the critical factor” and “tells us why the bridge collapsed,” even though the safety recommendation issued at the conference noted “the board’s investigation is ongoing and no determination of probable cause has been reached.”

“During its 41-year history, the board has always followed a process which leads to decisions and recommendations which are highly respected throughout the world for their soundness and objectivity,” Oberstar wrote. “Such announcements undermine the process and create the potential for committing the board to conclusions which will be difficult to change if the subsequent investigation suggests other possible conclusions.”

Oberstar concluded his letter by urging Rosenker “to adhere to the board’s established process of not announcing the cause of an accident until the investigation is completed.”

Some have viewed the NTSB’s investigation with suspicion after the Minnesota Department of Transportation took the unusual step of hiring Illinois-based consultants Wiss Janney Elstner to assist in the investigation. The move prompted the Legislature to launch its own joint investigation.

Rosenker recently told the Star Tribune: “There may be swirls of politics around the issues that we deal in, but we do not take any political sides.”

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