Money worries may have led to bad maintenance decisions for the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed and killed 13 people last August, a report released Wednesday concluded.
The report, conducted for the state Legislature by a private law firm, highlighted a number of bureaucratic tangles at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which was responsible for upkeep of the 40-year-old bridge.
But the key finding was on the money issue.
"Financial considerations, we believe, did play a part in the decision-making" on bridge maintenance, Robert Stein, one of the attorneys, told lawmakers during a briefing. "Sometimes it's easier just to take the least expensive alternative or just commission another study."
Tom Johnson, another attorney who worked on the report, told legislators the maintenance work wasn't sufficient. The bridge was rated in "serious to poor" condition for 17 consecutive years by the National Bridge Inventory Standards.
"The question for the Legislature is, do you want to have a bridge that remains in a poor condition over 17 years?" Johnson told lawmakers.
An agency spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment as the briefing on the report was under way.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation has found that some gussets — the plates that helped connect the girders of the steel-truss bridge — were too thin because of a design error and were a critical factor in the collapse. The NTSB probe, not yet finished, also said the weight of construction vehicles and materials was a factor.
The Legislature commissioned the most recent report to examine whether state policies or practices should be changed to avoid future tragedies.
The report's other main findings:
- Department policies weren't followed in critical respects.
- Decision-making responsibility was "diffused and unclear."
- Information flow was "informal and incomplete."
- Expert advice was not effectively used.
- The department's organizational structure "did not adequately address bridge conditions and safety."