Thursday, August 23, 2007

When the professionals are kicked out of Government…

…The results can be tragic.

I have not written in a while, and I have not posted my own photographs of the site because I have not been there to document it. Personally, I didn’t feel the urge to rush down to the river crossing (at the time of the collapse I was at my cabin in Northern Minnesota with my mom and Kristen) and take photographs while first responders and survivors risked their lives to get as many people out of harms way. In fact, a part of me is ashamed of all the people who flocked to the bridges, or to buildings with the best views for glimpses of the tragedy; at the Riverfront Guthrie in DT Minneapolis, staff began asking people if they had tickets for the evening performances, it was getting that crowded in the many observation decks and viewing areas of the theater. It was as if on-lookers were trying to become the next National Geographic photographers and the assignment was to document a catastrophe in your local community. I cheered when I read that two photographers were arrested by Minneapolis police for jumping security fences. I am sure that if one were to check Flickr by searching I-35W Bridge collapse, they would find close to 1,000 pictures. /End of Rant.

I have not written for a while for a number of reasons: In my last post I had a job with the City of Minneapolis and that job has since come to a close in Late July/Early August and I have been spending the last few weeks job hunting for the fall. On July 15th, my Grandfather Wallace J. Wambach passed away unexpectedly at the age of 82 from a heart attack. My brother, has a great post about one of the many memories with “Umpa”. I have been slow in deciding what to write about for my memory of my Grandfather, recently we had been chastising each other about the condition of the Cabin’s sanitary septic system and that I should be the one to inspect it.
I have been spending as much time as I can with the KU, who at the time is also applying for jobs. So far this summer we have been rollerblading quite a bit at the Three Rivers Park Recreation area (also known as Elm Creek Park), Kristen has been brushing up on her tennis skills in an attempt to teach me, and enjoying some of the mid-summer blockbusters including Transformers (my favorite), Harry Potter: The order of the Phoenix; but more on that in another post.

Onto the topic of the post:

While the reasons behind the I-35W Bridge collapse are still to be determined by the NTSB, and perhaps will be for some time, the blame and finger pointing is in full swing. I can’t believe the sheer number of cries from Anti-Tax citizens taking shots at Light Rail and Mass Transit projects as the number one culprit in this disaster. This is particularly interesting, considering that LRT and Mass Transit often REDUCE the number of cars on the road by providing ALTERNATIVES for those to get to and from their destinations.

However, the problem that plagues American government has persisted since the Republican take-over of the early to mid 80’s; when Moderate/Conservative Republicans made alliances with powerful Anti-Tax/Anti-Government entities (namely those who would lead the Neo-Conservative Republican Hi-jacking of the party) and removed professionals from many of the large departments in State and Federal governments. These professionals were replaced with Political appointees to enforce the agenda of the sitting administrations.

Recently the Star Tribune published a great editorial describing this very problem.

Another Bridge, a different outcome
August 22nd, 2007
Braun, a professional civil engineer, headed the Minnesota Department of Transportation from 1979 to 1986, serving Republican Gov. Al Quie and DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich. In 1982, he said, he saw corroded steel plates at the Smith Av. High Bridge, and heard the same thing from inspectors he'd heard for three or four years running: "There is oxidation on the plates, but it is no worse than last year."I just decided by myself that I was going to close the bridge," he recalled. The decision came out of the blue. "At that time, we had no funds programmed for the bridge; it was not on any priority list."
Nevertheless, the decision stuck. The old bridge was closed and a new bridge was built in its place. "Do what you think is right," was how Braun remembers the response of Quie, his boss, in the face of opposition by business owners adversely affected by the closure. "Quie was an absolute straight arrow," he said.
The shutdown began on a Tuesday. "A reporter asked me how the bridge could be safe on Monday but not safe on Tuesday," Braun related. "A good question. I responded that I could not predict when the bridge could fall down. It could be this afternoon, next month, next year, five years from now or never, but I was closing it on Tuesday. ...

But Braun exemplified other desirable traits in a transportation leader. He was an engineer, able to question inspectors and analyze data as only a professional can. He was decisive, and had earned the trust of the governor who backed his decision. And he was courageous. When a lawsuit was threatened over the High Bridge closure, he said in effect, "bring it on." A judge who ordered the bridge kept open would be shouldering the responsibility he bore as commissioner, and "I could sleep a lot better at night," he said. No lawsuit ensued.
None of Braun's successors at MnDOT's helm have had civil-engineering backgrounds. (Today, none of the department's three top leaders is a civil engineer.)

Star Tribune Editorial Board
Copyright 2007 Star Tribune.

August has been a very tragic and trying Month for the officials and citizens of Minnesota: to paraphrase Don Shelby of WCCO TV; we have endured draught, a bridge collapse, and now damaging floods in the South East of the state. With luck, these tragedies will lead to a galvanizing movement to fully invest in America’s declining Infrastructure.

I should also note, that the State of Minnesota should consider itself lucky that there were only minor casualties (13 confirmed as of August 21st, 2007) though many would argue that this tragedy should have never occured in the first place. It could have been far worse, and the low number reflects the excellent first responders and citizens this state has.

I have always been, and will continue to be proud of being from Minnesota.

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