At a presentation Tuesday evening, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak spoke to the University’s Interstate 35W bridge collapse class and other members of the University community. He addressed related political issues and introduced a concept he calls “Common Ground.”
“Every day in Minneapolis or in Minnesota or America there are hundreds of us – millions of us – who go about our lives without ever seeing who the other people are,” Rybak said.
This missing sense of community, or “Common Ground” was the focus of Rybak’s speech.
He recounted personal stories of victims of the bridge collapse to emphasize the need for improving the quality of Minnesota’s infrastructure. For this reason, Rybak said he openly supports Rep. Jim Oberstar’s, D-Minn, gas tax bill.
Rybak listed several transportation bills that passed the state legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“We have not invested in transportation, and we have not invested in transportation infrastructure,” Rybak said. “(The bridge collapse) was not an act of God, it was a failure of man.”
Danny Van Groll is a mechanical engineering sophomore enrolled in the I-35W bridge course.
“It makes sense how a lot of people oppose it because it is a tax,” Groll said. “I think the bridge collapse itself really puts into perspective what can happen if you don’t invest that money into it.”
Lee Munnich, director of the State and Local Policy Program for the Humphrey Institute, agreed that the state’s infrastructure needed more funding, but that policy makers also needed to reassess how those funds are disbursed.
“The political incentive has been usually to spend on new infrastructure or expanding infrastructure,” Munnich said. “Maybe we need to rebalance this somewhat, and put more money into maintenance and assuring the safety of our infrastructure.”
Rybak’s lecture was the second installment in “Telling River Stories,” an ongoing series of seminars presented in conjunction with the recently developed urban studies class, “The River, the Bridge, the Community: Beyond the Headlines of the I-35W Bridge Collapse.”
“The lecture series is a vehicle for us to reach the public with what we’re doing,” said Pat Nunnally, a research associate in the Institute on the Environment who teaches the I-35W bridge class.
“We think this first semester, this fall’s work, will help people understand the river and the bridge in new ways.”
Nunnally is also the coordinator of a program titled “River Life: The Mississippi River and U,” the primary sponsor of the lectures. The program is hosted by the Institute on the Environment and several other University departments. It is centered on analyzing the relationship between the Mississippi River, the University and the community.
Likewise, the “Telling River Stories” speaker series will address a progression of topics, with the community, the river, and the bridge as its main subjects.
“You don’t really know how the University can be helpful in the community until you sit down and have a conversation between the University and the community,” Nunnally said.