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Daily Glean: MnDOT: ‘An aging sedan overdue for an overhaul’

In Thursday’s local news roundup, the 15-inch-thick 35W bridge report, gleaned! Also, LRT engineers make an embarrassing “oops.” And: Is a 21-year-old responsible for 27 Twin Cities power outages?

The Legislature’s 15-inch-thick 35W bridge report was unleashed yesterday, and the Strib’s Mike Kaszuba offers the following takeaways. The bridge was considered “poor” for 17 years, about seven years longer than previously reported. No collapse cause is fingered, but authors highlight a funding-driven decision to postpone a span-reinforcing redecking. MnDOT officials apparently didn’t know about a similar 1996 Ohio bridge collapse. Like road salt, bridge-safety programs were carelessly scattered around the agency.

(We pause for thisoft-repeated disclaimer: My wife works for the law firm that did the investigation but didn’t work on the report.)

More investigation: URS speaks! MnDOT’s press-shy consultants cough up some info: Their 2005 comment that gusset plate buckling wouldn’t be catastrophic presumed the plates were designed properly. Obviously, no one reviewed the design. Also, a MnDOT engineer who noticed a buckled plate assumed it was a construction error, yet didn’t measure the deformation so it could be tracked. Most interviewees hated the idea of a politician (Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau) in charge of the department.

Weight problems: Of the 350 tons of construction equipment on the bridge, 82 percent was on the center span’s south side, says the PiPress’s Chris Snowbeck. A weight-placement study done for the larger, heavier redecking proposal was not effectively used. Again, this isn’t necessarily a collapse cause. The report recommends a “centralized emergency funding source” for major bridge repairs.

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Partisan fallout: Gov. Pawlenty’s new MnDOT commish says “Addressing the condition and safety needs of our bridge system has never been … subject to question due to budgetary concerns.” Kaszuba notes three of the six Republicans on the joint legislative committee didn’t attend the hearing, but quotes Bloomington GOP Rep. Neal Peterson praising the conclusions. (Peterson is one of the Override Six.)

Media reviews: Press notices for the report are positive. WCCO’s Pat Kessler tacitly praises the report in his Reality Check. A Strib editorial says MnDOT “comes off as an aging, once dependable sedan long overdue for an overhaul.” You can find the legislative report is here (PDF).

Meanwhile, in LRT Land … do you want these guys planning a railroad? The Strib’s Jim Foti notes Central Corridor LRT engineers “somehow omitted” 1,300 feet of track when estimating travel time. The quarter-mile “oops” hurt the favored Washington Avenue alignment’s federal funding score. The result: less right-of-way purchased. The PiPress’s Dave Orrick says Gov. Pawlenty intervened to give the U one more week to make its “northern alignment” case.

Remember last year’s vetoed tax bill that included subsidies for an Eagan data center? The PiPress’s Frederick Melo reminds us that Thomson Reuters built it anyway; lawmakers tour the facility today. It’s the company’s third in the southern suburb; the COO says there could be six eventually. Despite cutbacks elsewhere as Thomson digests Reuters, this merger should add 200 local jobs annually through 2012.

Strange tale from the PiPress’s Emily Gurnon: a 21-year-old who may have been responsible for up to 27 power failures in the Twin Cities last year. “Highly intelligent” U student Levi Glennie has only been charged in two incidents, but police tripped several alarms executing a search warrant; he’d also wired up a spycam at his parents’ home. The cops nabbed utility uniforms, badges, key-making equipment, an Xcel Energy credit card, a U pager, company padlocks and more.

Can we get by with 15 percent fewer state public defenders? Normally media-hungry State Public Defender John Stuart was hard to find in the run-up to, and aftermath of, state budget cuts. KSTP finally got some details: 61 of 421 attorney positions axed, because of a $3.4 million shortfall. Caseloads are likely to “increase significantly,” the Strib’s Richard Meryhew notes. In an always-stretched system, how much “justice denied” are we talking about? Someone, put meat on these bones.

I hope that story doesn’t make this one moot: The National Center for State Courts says Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines “virtually erase discrimination in criminal punishments.” Isabel Gomez, who heads the state’s guidelines commission, tells AP that the over-representation of blacks in state prisons is due to “societal factors.”

Related: the Strib’s Steve Brandt reports that Minneapolis’s very sketchy “lurking law” is getting renewed scrutiny. Opponents say it unfairly targets minorities and gives police too much discretion to wield power. Cops use criminal histories to determine lurkers, which seems like ex post facto punishment to me. One lawyer-council member proposes beefing up loitering laws, which rely on more public behavior.

A new airline will enter the Twin Cities market —  sorry, it’s not Southwest. The Business Journal reports that Alaska Airlines will begin twice-daily flights to Seattle in October. There’s an introductory $278 round-trip fare, and for $458 you can go to Kona, Hawaii.

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More airfares: NWA’s Doug Steenland tells WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro that fare-buyers, not labor, will have to pay for higher oil prices. The Strib front-pages news, as does the Pioneer Press, that American Airlines will charge 15 bucks for the first checked bag. Reporter Liz Fedor says Northwest hasn’t decided whether to match.

A Strib poll puts George Bush’s Minnesota approval rating at 25 percent; only Dick Nixon’s 20 percent was lower. A hefty 77 percent say the nation is “on the wrong track.” I generally oppose quoting individuals in poll stories — the whole point is collective wisdom — but Roseville’s Steve Camp has a nice summation: “It seems like America is degenerating to a point where nobody likes America anymore — not even Americans.”

Everyone reports on MnSCU’s seemingly reasonable tuition hikes: up 2 percent at two-year state colleges and 3 percent at four-year institutions. This despite a $7.9 million legislative cut, the Strib’s Jeff Shelman observes. It still works out to $4,565 a year at the two-year schools and $6,083 at the four-year colleges.

The St. Paul City Council basically told GOP convention protesters to shove their route objections, Minnesota Monitor’s Paul Demko reports. It’s headed back to court. The thing that just doesn’t seem right is the time limits: demonstrators have to wrap up before the convention effectively begins. In Minneapolis, the Strib notes that a City Council committee said protest groups of 50 or more must register with the city. The ACLU doesn’t like that.

KSTP’s “Smiley Face Killers” story made Anderson Cooper 360 last night. Like her local counterparts, ex-‘CCOer Randi Kaye basically pumps up the theory and shoves official doubts to the end. (Hat tip: MnSpeak.)

Minnesota News Network says the mosquito hatch is about two weeks late. The silver lining of the late, cold, dismal spring.

Nort spews: Curses! Former Twins flop Sidney Ponson pitches Texas to a 10-1 win; we’re back at .500. More errors for the fumbling Twins infield. On a happier note, the latest St. Paul Saints giveaway is a wide-stance winner.