NTSB Chairman on the Bridge Investigation National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker is in Minneapolis investigating what caused the bridge to collapse and how the safety of the nation's bridges should be determined in the future. Rosenker talks with Michel Norris.
NPR logo

NTSB Chairman on the Bridge Investigation

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12498530/12498531" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
NTSB Chairman on the Bridge Investigation

NTSB Chairman on the Bridge Investigation

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12498530/12498531" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

We're joined now by the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosenker. He's in Minneapolis, where his agency is investigating the bridge collapse. Welcome, Mr. Rosenker. Thanks for being on the program.

NORRIS: It's good to be with you.

NORRIS: Could you tell us just quickly the latest that you've been able to determine on why this bridge collapsed.

NORRIS: Well we continue to make progress, but not enough progress to give you why anything happened in 24 to 48 hours. This is going to be a long, tedious project, but we will move as expeditiously as we can without cutting any corners to get the probable cause, and then, of course, make any recommendations that we might need to make to prevent it from happening again.

NORRIS: I'm hoping you can clarify a term for us that we've heard over and over again since this bridge went down, the inspection rating: structurally deficient. Minnesota transportation officials tell us that that rating does not mean that the bridge was unsafe. What does it mean?

NORRIS: Well, they use unfortunate language like that - when you take it out of context in the civil engineering and the bridge arena, it gives you an impression that it's nearly ready to, you know, be condemned. That's not necessarily true and the Federal Highway Administration has a series of metrics and characterizations that, in fact, go from a number of characterizations within even that category. So I don't want to defend their - the use of that language, but you can get a misinterpretation from it.

But with that said, we do need to take a look at the way this bridge was inspected. And it may well be that they, in fact, characterize something appropriately and something should've been done. We are still focusing on those lot of areas before we can make that kind of determination.

NORRIS: It is, sir, though very confusing, how a bridge can be deemed to be perfectly safe and also be rated so low that it's just one step above the absolute lowest rating of basically intolerable - this, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

NORRIS: That's right. Again, I'm not here to defend that system. We're here to investigate that system, to see if that system is appropriate. This is a system, which resulted from a series of recommendations that we made after a catastrophic bridge failure back in 1967. I believe it was in West Virginia. And from that, the National Bridge Inspection program came. Prior to that, there were no inspections on bridges.

Now, is it time to change that criteria? Is it time to change those policies? Well, as a result of this investigation, we may need to make recommendations. But I can't tell you that in 24 to 48 hours because we have not gone that far yet.

NORRIS: For now, though, for state officials who were wondering what to do about the bridges in their areas that have been deemed either to be structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, what should they do if they do find fatigue, cracks or other problems?

NORRIS: They should be working...

NORRIS: Play it safe and close the bridge or go with the fix-as-you-go schedule?

NORRIS: They should be working very closely with the Federal Highway Administration. And matter of fact, the secretary of transportation and the administrator, put out guidance yesterday to talk about immediate inspections of similar bridges. So, it would be my best recommendation for these state agencies to work extremely closely with the Federal Highway Administration in making sure that their bridges are as safe as they possibly can be.

NORRIS: Sir, according to the Federal Highway Administration, more than 73,000 bridges are raided structurally deficient; another 80,000 rated functionally obsolete. How do we get to the point where we have so many bridges in the country that are in poor condition?

NORRIS: That's a good question. It's about how the states are choosing to use their highway funds. It is perhaps how the highway funds have been allocated over the past 30 years. Those are issues, which need to be looked at and clearly could be a call to action as a result of this terrible accident in Minneapolis.

NORRIS: Sir, I know you're a busy man, so we're going to let you go. Thank you so much for your time.

NORRIS: Very good.

NORRIS: That was the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosenker.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.