Or Maybe it Was a Design Flaw

Yesterday I linked to a Bob Herbert column that argued for more federal funding for infrastructure, and used Minneapolis’ collapsed I-35W bridge as its central example.

Well, this article in today’s NYT says the bridge died of a design flaw, not neglect:

The conventional wisdom is that the Interstate 35W bridge, aged and due for major maintenance, collapsed because of neglect. Surely inspectors had missed something, or their higher-ups had delayed needed repairs until the 40-year-old span plunged into the Mississippi, the popular belief goes.

State officials and engineering executives all over the country have joined in the chorus, arguing that the collapse, in which 13 people died and more than 100 were injured, demonstrates a need for expanded maintenance budgets. On Tuesday, the treasurer of Massachusetts said his state should spend $600 million on bridges to “avoid a future Minnesota incident.”

But the safety board, in issuing interim recommendations related to the collapse, said on Jan. 15 that the problem had not been age or money. The design of the bridge that failed was no good from the day the span opened, the board said: an engineer in the mid-1960s had specified gusset plates, the big sheets of steel that tie girders together, of half-inch thickness when they should have been an inch thick.

Of course, Herbert’s larger point still holds. Seattle alone has two big bridges that are toast in the next earthquake. We need to fix this stuff.