Bridges, Deficiencies, and Bullshit.

by Bob Plankers on August 2, 2007 · 8 comments

in Outright Rant

“Functionally obsolete” does not mean “good” to me. It means the object being described doesn’t meet current standards.

“Structurally deficient” does not mean “okay to continue using” to me. It means it’s going to break and needs to be dealt with.

“Non-redundant structure” doesn’t mean that failure can be tolerated. It means it’s all going to go all at once.

Scoring 50 out of 120 points on an inspection is a failing grade, to anybody who has attended any school, ever.

You have two options when faced with a structurally deficient bridge, which is functionally obsolete and non-redundant: fix it, or continue inspecting it. “Oh, we’ll just keep an eye on it.”

These engineers might be book smart, but ask any average Joe and you’d get the same answer: “What, are you stupid? Fix it.” You fix it out of fear that your last bridge inspection will be conducted while it sits in the river it spans, after they pull the dead bodies out.

This was murder. The weapon was apathy, cover-your-ass bullshit that MnDOT and the US Department of Transportation are deploying even now to save their asses from the lawsuits. I hope that every engineer that was complicit in this, every administrator who signed off on the decisions to do nothing, every politician who appointed those administrators are charged with manslaughter. I hope they lose their engineering certifications, lose their positions, and in some cases end up as convicted criminals. In the meantime they should lose their jobs for gross incompetence, and every bridge they worked with should be reinspected by competent teams. These people knew, from the lack of redundancy, that a failure would be catastrophic. They staked other people’s lives on their decisions to not fix the problems. They killed people with their apathy.

Maybe then we’ll stop seeing MnDOT and USDOT people on television saying that the term “structurally deficient” doesn’t mean “unsafe.”

Update: I’ve already had one email pointing out two things: that the cause is not known yet, and that this post is kinda harsh. I’ll concede that this may be premature, and we may discover that a freak problem happened that nobody could predict. Sure. As for being harsh, dying is harsh. I’ve driven across that bridge hundreds of times in my life. I didn’t know I was risking my life every time because of potentially bad decisions.

{ 8 comments }

Mr. Jigglesworth August 2, 2007 at 11:01 PM

Minnesota is one of the worst states in terms of taxes. Perhaps governments should stop raiding the coffers when it comes to infrastructure. I don’t know how back Minnesota is with that, but I do know that it was standard operating procedure in its neighbor state of Wisconsin.

While the media is still basking in the gore of this tragic incident, I’m waiting for the first politician to claim that they need more money to prevent this sort of thing. Was the problem that they couldn’t afford to fix the bridge? Or, was the problem that a calculated risk was taken so that the money that should have been spent repairing these sorts of things could be spent on various social services (buying votes from taxpayers, or rather non-taxpayers, with the money of the tax paying public).

Just you wait for the vulture politicians to start circling.

Bob Plankers August 2, 2007 at 11:44 PM

Any pool of money is going to be raided by politicians. In Minnesota a large portion of the lottery proceeds were to go to education. Did any of it make it? No. That was one of the reasons Jesse Ventura got elected, one of the questions he and his lieutenant governor asked.

They pillage and pillage and pillage public coffers, and there doesn’t seem to be any problem until something catastrophic happens. Then they’re all the ones to put their name on the fix.

Bob Plankers August 2, 2007 at 11:55 PM

Oh, just to be clear, I’d rather have a fix than not, if that’s the choice. :-) I, and most of humanity, would probably prefer to not have any more catastrophes like this.

Not speaking for the human race, though. Just speculating.

Dave B August 5, 2007 at 2:20 PM

“Structurally deficient” usually means “We’re using this as a scare tactic to get more money”, or atleast it does out West

Robert Pearson August 5, 2007 at 10:52 PM

Thanks for the post and the position. I agree.

I’m wondering where everyone was when then President Clinton proposed “rebuilding the infrastructure” during his tenure?
Hilary Clinton got booed out of town for standing up as a concerned citizen and proposing major health care reforms, which I, for one, could use now.
This is not a political statement nor a plug for any Clinton, living or dead.
As a private citizen, I thought they were ideas in tune with the times. I still do.

The political reality is worse now than it was then.
America is being run for the rich. They don’t care about infrastructure. They have the money to purchase politicians, including the Clinton’s or Bushes or whoever, to do what they want.
They don’t drive to work daily on dying bridges or depend on other shriveling Social Services.

For background reading try first:
http://www.technologyinvestor.com/login/2004/Jun11-07.php
How the rich live. The book is called “Richistan: A Journey Through
the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich.” It’s written
by Robert Frank. It’s hysterical.
You don’t want to buy it. But you do need to read some excerpts from a
review of it in the New York Times Book Review.

Past this take a look at:
Barbara Ehrenreich’s Blog
http://ehrenreich.blogs.com/barbaras_blog/
Barbara’s Web site
http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/

Past Barbara take a look at:
http://www.clivejames.com/

There are more but this is long enough already.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” ~ Thoreau
Joel Fort, a psychologist who ran Fort Help in California, wrote in Psychology Today, “If psychology is the study of deviancy, why do we not study politicians? They are the most deviant group in society”. Joel referenced the Thoreau quote.

Wait until you apply this to IT, Storage and Sys Admin?

Steve B August 6, 2007 at 7:49 AM

Of all the people I blame for this, the engineers don’t top the list. The politicians and bureaucrats create such insane ‘scoring’ systems that true problems like this get lost in the chaff. Engineers that do speak out about particular real problems, when found, using get ignored or canned. An engineering degree and license don’t mean sh*t to the politicians and bureaucrats actually allocating the money. In my experience in government, there is a presumption of corruption. If you say “this thing’s gonna fail and needs replaced,” the answer is almost always “shut up, it’s working fine. And what would *you* be getting out of fixing it.” And that seems to be true whether we’re talking about a bridge, boiler, or storage system.

Maitri August 7, 2007 at 1:07 PM

Calling incompetence and apathy before more infrastructure fails is not being harsh, it’s a warning to be prepared and to start necessary repairs now. This was one bridge compared to our whole BIG mess down here and elsewhere in the world, but terribly tragic and wholly unavoidable. Hope MN has better luck than LA.

just jon August 8, 2007 at 9:01 AM

I wonder if Henry Petroski (author of To Engineer is Human) will be pulled in for the investigation..

If I recall the book correctly, he may have some thoughts on the topic. :)

jon

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