Bridging transportation needs

Gov. Tim Pawlenty in May 2007 vetoed a gas tax increase that would have helped restore roads and the stateâÄôs infrastructure âÄî despite that the Minnesota Department of Transportation was in need of a massive funding boost and that the gas tax in Minnesota has not gone up since the early 1980s. That August, the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed, killing 13, injuring several and damaging the stateâÄôs trust in a basic necessity: infrastructure. Nevertheless, in the year since, Minnesota humanity was on full display, literally diving into the Mississippi to help those in need. Scandals broiled. Newspapers and investigative committees discovered incompetence was rife in the underfunded MnDOT. Meanwhile, heroic cleanup and emergency crews pulled the mangled remains of the I-35W bridge out of the water. Likewise so did the state, as the collapse highlighted that MinnesotaâÄôs whole infrastructure system was, as it were, in the river. It became apparent that Minnesota had been host to a magnitude of infrastructure problems. Before the collapse, the state was warned multiple times about the state of our bridges and roads. According to the 2005 American Society of Civil Engineers report card, 25 percent of the stateâÄôs roads were in poor condition, with 16 percent of our bridges being structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Former head of MnDOT Carol Molnau was found incompetent and the state Legislature summarily ousted her from the department. Sonia Pitt, the emergency management manager kicking back in Washington in the days after the collapse who misspent more than $25,000 of the stateâÄôs money, was fired. Pawlenty attempted to override another gas tax increase this spring, yet six Republicans put the state ahead of their party and helped override the veto. The new I-35W bridge should signify a new beginning for the state. An ambitious construction crew has accomplished a feat in itself in getting the new bridge completed in 14 months. The state is on the right road.