A Hateful Take on the Bridge Collapse

While my wife and I watched news footage of the Minneapolis bridge collapse last night, many thoughts went through my mind. One thought that never occurred to me, however, was “How could I make political hay out of this tragedy?”
Not so with Nick Coleman, the loyal Democratic party hack who writes a column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Less than twelve hours after the bridge went down, Coleman had in print a column blaming the collapse on Governor Tim Pawlenty and all others who oppose tax increases. (No one but Pawlenty was mentioned by name.) How was the governor responsible for this tragedy? A few months ago, he vetoed a five-cent a gallon tax increase. Of course, Coleman has to admit that this veto had nothing to do with the bridge collapse:

And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone through….

Indeed. There was never any money in any transportation bill to replace the 35W Mississippi River Bridge, because no one ever thought it was necessary. And this year’s budget is obviously irrelevant to a bridge that would take years to design and build, even if that had been considered appropriate.
So what, exactly, is Coleman’s point? It’s hard to say. He seems to think that if only taxes were higher, money for a new Mississippi River bridge would have been found somewhere. But that is silly. This was a relatively new bridge; replacing it would have been far down the list of any transportation priorities. If yearly inspections had caused engineers to think that there was a danger the bridge might fail, it would have been shut down. But the inspections apparently suggested no such danger.
Moreover, one thing we do not lack for in Minnesota, or elsewhere in the United States, is spending. Over the past few years, we Minnesotans have spent something like a billion dollars of transportation money on a light rail system. “System,” actually, is too grand a term; it is a single line that runs from the Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis. Conservatives generally opposed light rail, viewing it as an inefficient boondoggle, and wanted to spend the money on road construction instead. But the liberals prevailed, and the billion dollars were spent. If we hadn’t spent that money on light rail, those dollars would have been available for other transportation projects. Like bridge repair.
But it’s probably a waste of time to carry the argument that far. Transportation policy and infrastructure repair are legitimate subjects for debate, but Nick Coleman isn’t interested in them. His interest is in hate, pure and simple.
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