Minnesotans deserve to hear it

A public hearing on the Interstate 35W bridge collapse should be held.

Since last August when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed and sent more than 100 people into the river, or stranded them on the broken, half-submerged deck, Minnesotans have been asking for answers. The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal investigative agency with a sterling record for independence, is the one tasked with providing them.

It is with great disappointment that we learned last week the NTSB voted three- to-two against holding a public hearing on their findings thus far. The lead member of the panel wrote that a public hearing “would not yield the type of information critical to completing the investigation, and would be counterproductive to the timely investigative process.”

Perhaps it is true that the victims, nearby business and residents, or just interested people who sit through a few more minutes of traffic each day because of the collapse, would not help the NTSB glean the answers as to why the bridge fell. But as a public organization funded by our tax dollars, investigating a deadly failure of public infrastructure paid for and maintained by Minnesota taxpayers, we feel that we have a right to hear how the NTSB is proceeding with its investigation. An opportunity to ask questions could help supplement news reports we read, and bring greater national attention to infrastructure needs which we have found out – the hard way – is a significant, long term problem for this country. And two members of the board even feel that a public hearing could be of value.

Some have raised questions about the relationship between the NTSB and an independent contractor hired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to conduct its own investigation. A public hearing could go a long way toward clearing up how closely the two organizations worked, and whether the NTSB’s good reputation is as deserved as we’ve heard.

Many Minnesotans on that bridge suffered injuries that they will always carry with them, and 13 lost their lives. A public hearing is the least they deserve.