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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oberstar Pouts

Rep. Oberstar criticizes NTSB chairman's 35W bridge findings
The Minnesota Democrat said corrosion and cracking should not have been dismissed as possible fatal flaws.

By KEVIN DIAZ, Star Tribune

Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, fired off a critical letter to the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Wednesday, saying it was "highly inappropriate" for him to dismiss corrosion and poor maintenance as possible causes for the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.



Oberstar can’t quit stirring the pot because, in the words of the reporter,

"A design flaw would give Oberstar and other DFLers less of an opening to hold officials at the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Gov. Tim Pawlenty responsible for what they view as a lack of inspection and proper maintenance on the bridge."

Rosenker has been attacked for being a Bush appointee. Now it is Rosenker’s inexperience at NTSB that Oberstar attacks. Any excuse will do for him to avoid facing reality when he is determined to pin the cause on the GOP. Rosenker, speaking for the NTSB, identified a design flaw that resulted in the bridge collapse and stated corrosion or lack of maintenance did not bring the bridge down. Undoubtedly, the NTSB examined all the beams and gussets and noted the condition of each.

If we were allowed to examine each gusset, I would suggest that the average non-engineer could identify which gussets broke and if corrosion were involved.

  • We could identify gussets that bent as a result of a bridge section collapsing.
  • We could identify gussets that cracked sometime ago because the metal surrounding the crack would be rusty.
  • We could identify gussets that cracked very recently because the metal surrounding the crack would be bright and shiny.
  • We could identify gussets that flaked and crumbled due to corrosion.
  • We could identify gussets that cracked from the top or from the bottom.
  • If we looked at a bent gusset with some corrosion on it, we could tell if it was bent due to the leverage of a collapsing section or the result of corrosion.
  • We could identify gussets that were sheared and ripped.
  • We could identify gussets that were of different thicknesses.
  • And if we identified gussets that were thinner than others and sheared, we would conclude the gussets were undersized compared to the rest.

A person does not need to be an engineer to identify these features about gussets. In the real world, a group of non-engineers selected randomly from society who were given opportunity to look at the gussets would be able to draw some highly accurate conclusions. That group may not be able to identify the first gussets to break, would not be able to do the mathematical calculations, would not be aware of all the forces at work on the bridge structure, may not be able to identify what caused the undersized gussets to break now and not previously and it could not identify the actual problems before the bridge collapsed. However, that group would be able to identify the sheared gussets and whether corrosion was the cause of the shearing of those gussets.

Oberstar deliberately underestimates the capability of the NTSB even though our group could come up with a report with a high degree of accuracy. In fact, if Mr. Oberstar (randomly selected and unprejudiced) were in that group, he would be able to identify which gussets broke and if corrosion were involved.

But since Oberstar wants to play politics with safety, he will instinctively reject the obvious. And instinctively, Oberstar projects on to the NTSB his very own politicizing of the bridge–Rosenker is a Bush appointee and inexperienced. Is everyone at NTSB a Bush appointee and inexperienced? Oberstar must have corrosion as the cause for failure because undersized gussets don’t cash in politically as corrosion may.

Oberstar does not ever have to be right, so he can keep carping. The NTSB must be right the first time they make a report because safety and credibility are riding on their work. Oberstar doesn't have to live in the real world; the NTSB does.

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