Obama Falsely Blames Bridge Collapse on Insufficient Federal Spending

Matt Cover | April 19, 2011 | 3:22pm EDT
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President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama on Tuesday misstated the reason for the 2007 collapse of a Minnesota bridge carrying an interstate freeway over the Mississippi River, inaccurately blaming it on insufficient federal spending on transportation.

In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the "probable cause" of the bridge collapse was "a design error."

"According to the Republican budget that was passed, for example, we would have to eliminate transportation funding by a third," Obama told a townhall meeting in Annandale, Va., on Tuesday.

"We’d have to cut transporting funding by a third," said Obama. "You remember when that bridge in Minnesota collapsed with all those people on it? And there was a big hue and cry: How can this happen in America? Well, the National Society of Engineers, they’ve looked around and they give us a 'D' when it comes to infrastructure. Our roads, our bridges, our sewer systems are all deteriorating.

"We don’t even have a serious high-speed rail infrastructure in this country," Obama continued. "Our broadband lines are slower than places like South Korea. Well, so what, we cut transportation by another third, and what’s going to happen to America? We’re just going to have potholes everywhere? We’re just going to have bridges collapsing everywhere?"

On Aug. 1, 2007, the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., collapsed sending 111 vehicles into the Mississippi River and killing 13 people.

Contrary to Obama’s townhall speech, the bridge did not collapse because of “deteriorating” infrastructure. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the collapse was due to a design flaw, not to a lack of maintenance.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was the inadequate load capacity, due to a design error,” the NTSB states in its 2008 report on the incident.

In fact, the NTSB reported that on the day of the collapse, the bridge was in the process of being refurbished, further contradicting Obama’s claim that the collapse was evidence of a lack of infrastructure spending.

“On the day of the collapse, roadway work was underway on the I35W bridge, and four of the eight travel lanes (two outside lanes northbound and two inside lanes southbound) were closed to traffic,” reads the NTSB report.

Instead, the NTSB determined that the bridge collapsed partly because federal transportation inspectors did not properly inspect the design and did not give “adequate attention” to the parts of the bridge that caused the failure.

President Barack Obama and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine visit a road construction site in Springfield, Va., on Feb. 11, 2009. (AP File Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“Contributing to the design error was the failure of Sverdrup & Parcel’s [the bridge’s designers] quality control procedures to ensure that the appropriate main truss gusset plate calculations were performed for the I-35W bridge and the inadequate design review by Federal and State transportation officials,” said the NTSB.

“Contributing to the accident was the generally accepted practice among Federal and State transportation officials of giving inadequate attention to gusset plates during inspections for conditions of distortion, such as bowing, and of excluding gusset plates in load rating analyses,” states the report.

Gusset plates are the steel plates that are used to tie multiple steel support beams together on bridges like the I-35W bridge. The NTSB, in its investigation, found that the steel beams that supported the bridge had been poorly designed and were not strong enough to handle the combined weight of rush-hour traffic and heavy construction equipment.

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