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August 7, 2007

Speechless

35wbridge.jpg

Well, did anything happen while I was gone? Heh. Just kidding. I think it is an understatement to say that we all received a roundhouse kick to the head over this one. Quite frankly, it has left me speechless. For a while I haven't known what to say besides my heart and prayers go out to those that lost loved ones in the disaster, and to those that were injured. This is absolutely terrible, and we need to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.

But I feel like I can't write about anything else until I write something about this, so here it goes.

Based on some of the negative comments I have already received, I am guessing a few of you are just itching to lay into me and my suspect priorities. Go ahead if it makes you feel any better. In fact, it is my opinion that everything is fair game when discussing something as important as bridges and other like infrastructure. And it appears that everything is fair game. I have read a lot of opinions on where to lay the blame:

Like I said, everything is fair game. Give the choice between reinforcing that bridge and saving lives, or building a new Twins stadium I would have picked the bridge every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Hind sight is 20-20, of course, but I would be surprised if any Twins stadium proponent felt differently.

Now for some of my well-formed opinions on this. First of all, I don't care if T-Paw or Hatch was governor, if the legislature was controlled by the DFL or the Republicans, or if someone else was in charge of MNDOT, no one was going to repair that bridge. So, while I think T-Paw and Molnau are taking some understandable heat over this one, in the end it really doesn't matter who was in the governor's mansion because that bridge wasn't scheduled for major repairs until 2020. Some of you may disagree and suggest that different leadership somewhere would have made this bridge a priority, but I just don't see it.

This does not mean I don't think some adjustments are necessary, or that I think this bridge disaster isn't a wake up call to start investing more in our infrastructure. Politicians in Minnesota would be wise to heed the warning provied by this disaster and do whatever is necessary to make sure it never happens again. It is tragic, it is embarrassing, it is not what I want people around the world to think about when they think about Minnesota and the Twin Cities area.

I want people to think about our wonderful school system, our fantastic parks and natural resources, our cultural activities like theaters and art museums, and our four seasons and friendly people. And yes, I want people to think about the professional and college sports opportunities in the area. All of this together makes for our phenomenal quality of life.

The bridge disaster was a horrible accident, and I grieve for the families involved. But more than anything it was an accident. Priorities need to be examined, and at the very least infrastructure needs to be higher on the list. But unlike some shrill voices, I do not believe it is time to panic. This is one bridge out of thousands. As Minnesotans, I hope we can take this opportunity to thoughtfully reevaluate where we invest our money, while at the same time find a way where we can continue to have the good life. And let me just say right away, Zygi better start thinking of a plan B.

Posted by snackeru at August 7, 2007 6:41 AM

Comments

Amen, brother Shane. It is times like this where the common citizen wishes to assign blame. The common citizen does this without much research.

In my opinion, this failure to invest in our infrastructure is a nationwide issue. The feds (both sides of the aisle) have failed to address it, the state of Minnesota has failed to address it, and we the voters have failed to address it.

We scream and holler when local governments want to build new schools to replace ones that are damn near falling apart.

As far as the stadium, I remember it as an ala carte decision by the county that did not come out of their general fund. Thus, it was not money spent in place of something else. Ignorant finger pointers cannot blame the Twins on this one.

We do spend money on non-essential things as a community, like parks, museums, theaters, small ball parks and yes, big ball parks. This speaks to having quality of life outside of work. These expenditures should not go away, but yes they do need to be balanced against the essential needs of society.

One point... I do not remember during all of the debates a single person saying "I can't believe this park is being built when our bridges are crumbling". People brought up education and the transportation bill (which as I understand would not have fixed that bridge any earlier). So, if the stadium hadn't gotten the go ahead, we would still be here mourning the loss of the poor people who died on that bridge.

So much energy and time is spent fighting over who's fault it is, and not enough is done to rectify the situation. I wish people would look forward and try to address the real problems now, instead of going on a witch hunt to find a fall guy.

Oh... welcome back Shane. Hope you had a great vacation.

Posted by: zooomx at August 7, 2007 9:39 AM

The point is; there is only so much money to go around. You can't keep coming back to the people with your hand out. The sales tax for the stadium definitely "drained some water out of the pool" of available monies for everything else. That is a fact.

Posted by: pointmissed at August 7, 2007 10:26 AM

Welcome back Shane, it's nice to have a (generally) level-headed moderator to guide this brood.

As to your points, I agree pretty strongly. To place blame for this at the feet of any one person, place, or thing is a fools errand.

Putting my partisan and other political views aside, and looking at this from a political science point of view, the situation becomes fairly clear:

Since the late 60's when most of our major highway projects were completed, we have rested on that infrastructure. Sure, there have been improvements, expansions, and some new construction... but in general, we're running on stuff built between 1935 and 1967. That was the last time in this country's history that vast amounts of money, time, and political capitol were put in to infrastructure projects.

The reasons for this are many, and perhaps boring and technocratic... but I hope you'll read on as I think this lesson bears teaching.

The first big reason is oddly enough, Richard Nixon. Nixon changed highway funding formulas (and all funding formulas) to generally block-grants. What this means is that states were given pots of money, and told to make programs work with what they were given. He did this largely to disrupt welfare and civil rights programs, but it also had the unintended consequence of pooling highway funds this way too. Some of this has changed over the years with earmarking, which is now under attack... oddly, it has helped this problem.

Block grant funding enabled the inevitable cuts in funding to all of these programs that were spurred on by the anti-tax revolts of the 70's and 80's. In this political environment, little could be done to push new funding to infrastructure programs as politics took on an increasingly consumeristic tone throughout the last 30 years. (that is to say, political figures were packaged like products, what can they do for YOU)

Since then, infrastructure has died the death of a thousand cuts. Left on the cutting room floor for hihger profile pieces of trophy legislation, it became very easy for elected officials to simply punt when it came time to pony up and invest in long term projects. This is not entirely the politicians fault, for when leaders would emerege and ecourage vision on such projects they were frequently shouted down, and often defeated at the polls.

So, for the sake of political expediency, voters severe distaste for paying for projects, and an overall unwillingness to invest in long-term commitments... we arrive where we are today. Today we drive on WPA Bridges from the 40's, or Urban Renewal Bridges from the 60's. By our votes we demand our elected leaders do things on the cheap, and demand top shelf services, while paying rail drink prices.

Political leaders are spawned from us, who we are, and what we want. If we revile and loathe political figures, maybe we should ask ourselves just what it is WE'RE asking them to do.

I say this, not because I think modern political leaders should be held blameless. But because too often it is too easy for us to simply blame the people we elect for the problems that are of our own making.

I say this because in the wake of this tragedy I've watched my fellow Minnesotans, of all political stripes, marry this situation to whatever political axe they were grinding on July 31st. Whether it's the Iraq War, the stadium, no-new-taxes, oh-God-won't-someone-think-of-the-children, transit (both pro and con), or even illegal immigration.

In the last week I have heard every, single one of these arguments. What upsets me about them isn't their substance, it's the fact that something very serious and grave happened here, and largely what i've seen from my fellow citizens is more of the same attitude that got us in to this mess in the first place.

Posted by: CJ at August 7, 2007 10:45 AM

Well said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Ben at August 7, 2007 11:59 AM

I say this because in the wake of this tragedy I've watched my fellow Minnesotans, of all political stripes, marry this situation to whatever political axe they were grinding on July 31st. Whether it's the Iraq War, the stadium, no-new-taxes, oh-God-won't-someone-think-of-the-children, transit (both pro and con), or even illegal immigration.

In the last week I have heard every, single one of these arguments. What upsets me about them isn't their substance, it's the fact that something very serious and grave happened here, and largely what i've seen from my fellow citizens is more of the same attitude that got us in to this mess in the first place.

Amen. It's frustrating to see something like this happen, which actually opens an opportunity for renewed dialogue, only to see that opening filled by the same narrow-minded single-issue thinking that existed previously. Instead of addressing the reality of the situation, people contort reality to fit within the parameters of the preconceived notions they held before. We need someone to rise above all of this and inspire and lead. Is there a person like that out there?

Posted by: The Tube at August 7, 2007 2:33 PM

Gee,

That's now reason 314 for why I've hated Nixon all these years.

Posted by: kevin in az at August 7, 2007 5:32 PM

We need someone to rise above all of this and inspire and lead. Is there a person like that out there?

Yeah, but he/she is probably not "electable". Some goofy character flaw, or political party that will offend 60+% of the population.

Posted by: Drake33 at August 7, 2007 6:11 PM

Well said, CJ. That should be printed in the dailies. You think you could get that 'other' CJ to submit it as her column for the Strib?

Posted by: spycake at August 8, 2007 2:03 PM

The Highway Revenue Act authorized that revenues from certain highway user taxes could be credited to the HTF to finance a greatly expanded highway program enacted in 1956. How was the HTF funded? Well, tax revenues are derived from excise taxes on highway motor fuel, truck related taxes, truck tires, sales of trucks and trailers and heavy vehicle use. The mass transit account receives a portion of the motor fuel taxes usually 2.86 cents per gallon, as does the leaking underground storage tank trust fund.
The leaking underground storage tank trust fund!

The general fund receives 2.5 cents per gallon of the tax on gasohol and some other alcohol fuels. Plus, an additional 6 tenths of at least 10 percent ethanol. The highway account receives the remaining portion of the fuel tax proceeds.

They have more trust funds to fix infrastructure and so forth than anyone knew existed.

And yet, where's the money? Is it like the social security trust fund? It isn't there?

Politicians and Bureaucrats seem the most responsible and the least accountable.

Posted by: Jimmy at August 11, 2007 1:11 AM

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