Archive for the ‘I-35W bridge collapse’ Category

death trap alley

“Pray for me, I drive Highway 60”.

That is the slogan of the Southwest Minnesota Highway 60 Action Corporation that was organized in 1960. The groups purpose back then, as it is today, was to promote the improvement of Minnesota TH 60. They are still praying and waiting 48 years later. Last Thursday, July 24, 380 people gathered in Windom to share their experiences about traveling on Highway 60 and to urge Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) officials to complete the 4-lane expansion.

MNDOT Commissioner Thomas K. Sorel got an earful as about 25 of the 380 in attendance were able to speak over the course of the two and a half hour meeting. Worthington Daily Globe reporter Julie Buntjer covered the event and led her story with this:

One by one they walked to the microphone, sat down and shared their death-defying experiences on a stretch of Minnesota 60 that not once, not twice, but three times changes from two-lane to four-lane traffic between Windom and St. James.  

From an aunt, friend and cousin who shared their stories of 28-year-old Jamie Torkelson, killed in a head-on collision on the highway on May 6, 2005, to retired school bus drivers, business people, truck drivers and city and county leaders — they pleaded with newly-appointed transportation commissioner Thomas Sorel and MnDOT officials to find the money to complete the four-lane expansion.

The Cottonwood County Citizen also covered the event: Highway 60 meeting attracts 380 to Windom Community Center.

Two area lawmakers and state transportation commissioner Thomas Sorel left Windom with a stronger sense of Highway 60’s flaws and the public’s resolve after last night’s meeting at the Windom Community Center.More than 380 people were on hand, several of them were there specifically to provide testimony on the dangers of the controversial highway. One after another, residents testified about cases where motorists became confused by the highway’s mixture of two-lane and four-lane stretches. Most stories ended with someone in the wrong lane and a “near miss,” injuries, or a fatality.


The room fell dead silent following two different stories regarding close calls involving school buses full of students.


Lawmakers, such as Sen. Jim Vickerman and Rep. Rod Hamilton expressed frustration that MnDOT leaders have failed to comply with a bill the state’s lawmakers approved this past spring - a bill that requires all of Highway 60 to be completed. Read the rest here.  



Rahn Larson, editor of the Cottonwood County Citizen, questions the power and decision making of the officials at MNDOT in his editorial: MnDot vs. lawmakers?  Larson asks:

Can a state agency simply refuse to enact an order passed by the Minnesota Legislature?

He then goes on to list a number of facts that proves the intent of the legislature to finish Highway 60 and then has this to say:

OK, so the bill was approved and the legislative intent was confirmed and even stressed to MnDOT leaders at least twice. So the real question is this: “Who is calling the shots for Minnesota - the legislature, or department heads for the various departments?


State Senator Jim Vickerman (DFL) and Representative Rod Hamilton (GOP) were both at this meeting in Windom but missing in action was Representative Doug Magnus (GOP). Of course it was probably a wise decision on his part to stay away from such a large gathering since he supported Governor Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the transportation legislation. Fortunately the legislature was able to overide that veto.

In the coming week we will probably find out if Governor Pawlenty will be chosen as McCain’s running mate. He will probably bring along his veto pen. We will also remember the collapse of the I35W bridge. Our infrasturcture needs our obvious and urgent and we could use some real leadership on this issue. Unfortunately we have not received that from the Governor or Representative Magnus.

The Worthington Daily Globe has this compelling audio of Hillary Mathis speaking of her cousin’s tragic death on Highway 60.

(click the arrow)



Peace & solidarity,




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Marshall Independent editor Dana Yost in the Editors Blog on August 15 says,

“…I think Molnau should be stripped of her MnDOT commissioner role, keeping just the lieutenant governor position. This will remove any suspicion that politics or fiscal fear is getting in the way of a responsible response to the collapse. Molnau has said money wasn’t a consideration in the response to the 35W bridge, but that’s a fairly laughable contention since MnDOT and other state officials have all said they sought less-expensive responses to harsh inspection reports. She doesn’t have much credibility.”

Lieutenant Governor/Commissioner Molnau has garnered criticisim from both the DFL and GOP for what they perceive as an unwllingness to advocate for funding for the state’s transportation needs.

“I don’t think she has had any vision of transportation, and she did not advocate for the department, and I think that she should,” said Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina, who has long supported a gas tax hike. Pioneer Press

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, doesn’t believe she can continue to do her job. Star Tribune

Real leadership and unity are what we will need going forward and Yost’s blog says it all.

Read the blog here.

Peace & solidarity,


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       superhighway before its super       


paving superhighway

The preceding pictures were taken in Southwestern Minnesota during the construction of the “super highway” I-90 in the early 60’s. It connected rural America and bypassed it at the same time. This investment in infrastructure did create jobs and opportunities and provided an economic boost to the region.

With the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis there has been renewed focus on the transportation debate in Minnesota. Here is a sampling from southwestern Minnesota newspapers:

Worthington Daily Globe, August 9, 2007, Mending Our Roads

“We’re pleased to hear Gov. Tim Pawlenty is reconsidering his position on a 10-cent increase in the state gasoline tax. It’s something that was necessary before the collapse of the I-35W bridge in the Twin Cities — and certainly needed now as a means of generating additional, much-needed revenue”.

and this,

“At a Tuesday meeting of the Nobles County Board of Commissioners, Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder indicated the county doesn’t have the funds needed to maintain road surfaces in accordance with 10-ton standards, much less fund road reconstruction projects. Something is wrong with this state of affairs.”

The editorial is here.


Marshall Independent, August 7, 2007, Make Response on Infrastructure Comprehensive

“The landscape has changed, almost overnight, on transportation talk.

What happened in Minneapolis last Wednesday was unacceptable.

It will also be unacceptable if the response from Minnesota law and policy makers falls anything short of a comprehensive, thoroughly funded change of course on roads and bridges.

Minnesotans need to be able to trust that their transportation system is safe and well-cared for.

Until lawmakers respond, that trust is shaky.”

The editorial is here.


Cottonwood County Citizen, August 8, 2007, Value of Infrastructure

“…Let’s face it, the State of Minnesota has taken a patchwork approach to its transportation system for at least a couple of decades. What we are now seeing is clearly a case of state officials reacting to a tragedy and the public pressure that has ensued.”

and this

“The challenge before rural lawmakers is to convince metro lawmakers of the importance of addressing all state highway needs equally - without favoring the metro area.

It is about time that state lawmakers address our deteriorating highways and bridges. It’s too bad, however, it took a tragedy to push them to this point.”

The editorial is here.


If we are to make something positive out of this we need to continue the momentum calling for a real investment in our transportation infrastructure. There will be additional debates about rural versus metro needs and roads versus transit but hopefully we will have some leadership that will show that this type of investment will strengthen our economy more than any of the economic development tax break plans that have received so much hype.


Peace and solidarity,



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That quote has been attributed to Mother Jones, the feisty Irish-born labor activist/agitator who made her mark in history during the late 1800’s. It seems appropriate given the events of the last few days in Minnesota.

At 6:05 PM, Wednesday, August 1, 2007 the I-35W bridge across the Mississippi River collapsed-carrying with it it’s precious cargo; everyday citizens going about their normal business. Tragically, lives have been lost and many others were injured, physically and emotionally. Recovery efforts continue, the investigation of the cause of this bridge failure has started, and plans for rebuilding are in the works. This catastrophic event has generated a lot of interest and debate about the condition of bridges across the nation. The national media is giving the bridge issue a lot of air time now but I fear they will tire of it and move on to the next ‘big story’. That would be tragic.

The infrastructure issue is more than just highway bridges.  Our roads, schools, communications, energy, water and other public resources have been ignored for to long. We need real leaders to tackle this and push for an aggressive effort to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure. Not the Governor Tim Pawlenty type that vetoes a transportation bill that was supported by business, labor, cities and counties, and others throughout the state. As citizens we need to have a grassroots effort demanding an investment in our future. Correcting the infrastructure deficiencies of the past will require massive amounts of money but it will also create untold thousands of good paying jobs and opportunities. If politicians really want to help the poor, the working class, the small businessman, and hell yes, even the rich, here is the opportunity.

When I-90 was built across southern Minnesota it provided an opportunity for my father. He moved his wife and four young children to the small town of Beaver Creek, Minnesota. There as an independent agent for a major oil company he serviced the construction equipment that was being used by the companies building the road. It was hard work. There were long hours. But this opportunity provided for his family and helped him establish his business. Later, when he made a career change, he became an employee of the State of Minnesota as the manager of the Travel Information Center located on I-90. After a successful career there he finally retired with a good pension and health care benefits. He now resides in the Veterans Home in Luverne, a state run facility built with federal, state, and local dollars. Do you get my point yet? Investment in public infrastructure has had a profound and positive effect on the life of my father and his family.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned Mother Jones. I like to think that if she were alive today she would be asking, no demanding we fix our roads and bridges, fix our schools, fix our public infrastructure. Mother Jones would be fighting for the living. Shouldn’t we do the same?

Peace & solidarity,


Workday Minnesota has a special section devoted to coverage of the I-35W bridge collapse here.

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