If the state was billed (bilked) for the two long-handled shovels, two automatic nail guns, two sledgehammers, a pick-ax, etc., then we own those items.

Where are they? The Minnesota Department of Transportation needs to store those items in case they hire some other company that doesn't have equipment or maybe some of MnDOT's road crew foreman or supervisors could use those long-handled shovels to lean on while the bridge is being repaired.

A big thank you to the Star Tribune's Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe for keeping an eye on our tax dollars. Keep it up.

DOUG CLEMENS, BLOOMINGTON

MnDOT, an engineering agency, deserves an engineer leader

A number of state government departments and semi-private utilities are essentially engineering operations. These organizations function to achieve engineering or technical ends. In other words, "Make it work."

They are quite dependent upon hardware and infrastructure resources to deliver their services. They are also heavily concerned with public safety. Transportation most certainly fits this category and Minnesota's Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is an excellent example. In order that these engineering operations function most economically and expeditiously, it is imperative that they be operated and controlled by educated, experienced engineers.

A typical argument for hiring a nonengineer as MnDOT commissioner is that many of the decisions made are political in nature. Therefore, proponents of a non-engineer commissioner believe it best to have a political insider to look out for MnDOT interests. First of all, the MnDOT commissioner's job is not to look out for MnDOT's political interests. It is to look out for the people of the state of Minnesota. Second, many people believe political decisions should be made by politicians, not MnDOT staff. Political issues should be resolved before involving MnDOT staff. This is what the governor and Legislature are elected to do. Both political parties have been seriously guilty of neglecting their duty in this respect. In addition, MnDOT's function is far too critical for it to be used as prize plum for someone's political loyalty.

Typical internal MnDOT decisions involve planning for major projects (example, a bridge over the Mississippi), determination of funding required for any particular project, staffing for anticipated workload, procurement of assistance from private sector engineers or contractors, the line of road graders to purchase over the next five years, and so on. These are engineering decisions, requiring engineering training and judgment. In other words, MnDOT is clearly an engineering department.

Only educated and experienced engineers are capable of lending the weight of their experience and training to these critical engineering management decisions. This is particularly true in situations dominated by safety. Almost invariably, nonengineers in charge of these engineering functions are simply excess baggage, absorbing scarce funds and space needed to acquire and augment valuable engineering talent and experience. These people are also taking up pay and promotion opportunities badly needed to recruit and retain young graduate engineers to the department.

Perhaps it's time for MnDOT management positions to be reevaluated completely for job content, the goal being to increase the legitimate engineering content of MnDOT management. Finally, it's most important goal has to be that the MnDOT commissioner slot be reserved for an educated, experienced, and registered, professional engineer.

JOHN M. BERNER, GOLDEN VALLEY

Governor needs to say how MnDOT will improve

If I understand the statements Gov. Tim Pawlenty made at his press conference last week, we should stop pointing fingers at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, because it was faulty 1960s-era "gusset" design, not inspections or repairs, that caused the Interstate 35W bridge to collapse.

In other words, we should recognize that the bridge was never safe.

If I hire contractors to remodel my house, I depend on them to assess whether the new design is structurally sound. Taxpayers "hire" MnDOT to build and maintain our infrastructure. If it has not been spelled out in statute before, it should be now: MnDOT's engineers need to assess load capacities and evaluate whether existing bridges remain sound. That would include a study confirming that the original specifications were met, and are still adequate.

This certainly should have happened before the I-35W bridge was fitted with a deeper road bed and median dividers, both of which added significantly to a bridge that was inadequate in its original design, and buffeted by four decades of corrosion and metal fatigue due to increased traffic.

This is not a partisan issue. It's a systemic problem that predates the Pawlenty administration. A true leader, however, would tell us what the department will do to correct its shortcomings, not chastise us for raising questions.

RICHARD ERICSON, ST. LOUIS PARK

After bridge collapse, an economic collapse

In light of the recent finding that the 35W bridge collapsed due to a design flaww that inspections would not have caught, I expect the DFLers in our state legislature to stop using the collapse as a rallying point for a higher gas tax. All the funding in the world would not have saved this bridge. Rather, with oil at $100 a barrel, a gas tax would have a detrimental effect on our already fragile economy.

MICHAEL CAPP, ANDOVER

Hallmark of donor program should be fairness

In the Jan. 13 Opinion Exchange section, Dr. Arthur Matas campaigns for the legalization of compensation for people who donate a kidney for transplantation.

He says this will prevent many deaths from delayed surgeries for people who need kidneys. He says the government and insurance companies can pay the compensation to the donors and save money.

This plan would also keep the doctors very busy but don't expect your health insurance rates to decrease.

Despite the idea that this plan still depends on the benevolence of people who want to help others, this sounds like another plan to take from the poor to the benefit of the rich. The rich are much less likely to sell a kidney and the poor would be enticed by the money. The rich would have a reliable source of kidneys but the poor would still be unable to afford a transplant, even those fortunate enough to have the more expensive health insurance.

The only way this compensation plan could be fair for all is if we had universal health care and yes, fairness is a part of our American heritage but it has fallen out of favor lately. Let us bring it back.

BILL HABEDANK, RED WING, MINN.