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Opinion - Popular decision to close a bridge

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Opinion - Popular decision to close a bridge
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

MINNEAPOLIS - A major highway bridge in St. Cloud is closed indefinitely, without warning -- and people cheer. That's one indication of how raw remains the psychic wound this state suffered when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed.

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Minnesota Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Robert McFarlin and his leadership team deserve praise for doing on Thursday what in other circumstances might have been the controversial thing -- and, in light of the Aug. 1 disaster, was unquestionably the right thing. Warping gusset plates on the DeSoto Bridge are not to be tolerated.

McFarlin's call came after an ultrasound inspection revealed bends in bridge components that had passed the muster of several visual checks in recent months. While MnDOT deserves praise for making the ultrasound inspection, it's fair to ask why that technology had not been brought to bear on inspections before now.

The case also underscores the value of the investigation that's proceeding on the collapsed 35W bridge in Minneapolis -- and demonstrates the importance of making that investigation thorough and impervious to partisan attack. Gusset plates on the DeSoto Bridge likely would not have been reexamined if the National Transportation Safety Board had not shared its preliminary findings about the cause of the 35W collapse.

Future NTSB pronouncements also need to carry the credibility of an investigation that's beyond reproach -- and that means one that includes a public hearing.

How tight is state money these days? Consider this: Less than two months before its main event, Statehood Week, the state's Sesquicentennial Commission is at the Legislature seeking the operating funds it needs to get it through the year.

A few weeks ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty directed $175,000 to the commission, enough to keep it open for business into the summer months. But commission executive director Jane Leonard said that without an additional $825,000, events planned for the remainder of the year will be in doubt.

That would be a shame -- especially since the fall educational and community planning sessions on the commission's calendar may be the most valuable of the 150th anniversary year. What the commission has in mind goes far beyond a birthday party. It aims to instill a greater sense of Minnesota ownership among large numbers of citizens and initiate some serious grassroots planning for the state's future.

Private fundraising for the statehood celebration has lagged. That may be because the Legislature lowballed its initial contribution last year, at $750,000 -- half of which went to community grants. If legislators expect Minnesota philanthropists to underwrite meaningful sesquicentennial events, they need to pony up enough to pay for commission operations. -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

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