Nick Coleman: More than the I-35W bridge fell down on the job

  • Article by: NICK COLEMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2007 - 11:02 PM

When you consider how the old Interstate 35W bridge looks these days, there is an irony in the name of the company picked to build a new one: Flatiron.

"Flatironed" is what we got on Aug. 1. And what you get when you cross Carol Molnau.

"Steamrollered" works, too.

Seven weeks after the catastrophic collapse of a highway bridge on her watch, Lt. Gov. Molnau defiantly remains in her politically motivated posting as Tim Pawlenty's transportation commissioner, and has even worked up the nerve to show up in public again.

Molnau was on hand, briefly, at Wednesday's weird awarding of a $233 million bridge contract (that could reach as much as $260 million) to the highest bidder, Flatiron Construction, of Colorado. She made some introductory remarks, then sat, alone, in the back of the room, disappearing before questions came up and the whole crazy rush to get a new bridge built in order to get the ruins of the old one off our minds started to unravel.

Flatiron was the most expensive bidder, the only one with no strong Minnesota construction experience, and its plan equalled the longest timetable to build a secret bridge -- the design of which has not been unveiled and has not been approved by the city, which must sign off on the project.

Surprise, surprise: The other bidders are now objecting.

You look at this mess and you get the idea that the Pawlenty-Molnau administration wants Aug. 1, 2007, to fade into the rear-view mirror of history as fast as possible.

If she ran a railroad this way, Molnau would be trying to find a box car to ride in.

Molnau was in China when the bridge -- which was structurally deficient and in the midst of a critical inspection that had been suspended and was a cheap substitute for the more expensive fix that had been recommended by consultants -- fell into the Mississippi and killed 13 people.

When she returned, she jousted with reporters and seemed annoyed that anyone would question her leadership, and implied that everything would be OK if the media would report about all the people who made it safely across a bridge.

Since then, Molnau has been harder to find than a quick way home from work. She didn't show up in Washington for a Sept. 5 congressional hearing on bridge safety, sending her deputy, Bob McFarlin, instead. Flunky McFarlin, representing the grieving state of Minnesota, told lawmakers it was far too early to know what to do about bridges mysteriously falling into rivers.

Especially if it involves gas taxes. That's Molnau's M.O., all right: "Let's Do Nothing."

It has been adopted by her subordinates, including Molnau's emergency manager, a wandering traveler named Sonia Kay Morphew Pitt, who was enjoying an East Coast jaunt at taxpayer expense when the bridge fell and who didn't return home for 10 days, although it was her job to coordinate things in an emergency.

Pitt is now on leave, or perhaps in hiding, and under investigation, although it appears the "investigation" is as much damage control as inquiry. If she didn't come home because she thought she didn't need to, she should lose her job. If a superior told her she didn't need to, that person should lose his or her job.

Oh Molnau, Where Art Thou?

In Washington yesterday, Sen. Barbara Boxer got in the face of U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters after Peters claimed there is no transportation safety crisis in America. Like Molnau, Peters says she thinks things are going swimmingly, and they are: Sometimes, we have to swim for it.

We need more angry Boxers. And fewer huggers. It's time to stop holding hands and start holding people responsible. It wasn't only a bridge that fell down on the job.

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