New bridge need not be ugly

I attended the MnDOT open house at Roseville High School last night, or I should say I walked through the job-fair like gym full of MnDOT employees. I was pleased to see that there were folks asking all sorts of questions, but disappointed that it wasn’t a town hall style meeting, however, that is only because I like arguments. The format used was likely a much better way for “nice” Minnesotans to engage in dialog.

As I was walking out, a reporter stopped me and I gave him this, more or less, paraphrased statement:

“Ben Edwards, an Arden Hills resident who crossed the 35W bridge every day on his way to work in Eden Prairie, said he didn’t want Minnesota “to miss an opportunity to do something special with this bridge,” including a unique design and transit options. He said that his commute was no picnic before the collapse and isn’t much different now, and that he’d be willing to wait for a bridge that did more than increase vehicle capacity.”

You can read the full article at the Star Tribune site.

It sounds as though, there are at least some signs of compromise showing up from the Governor’s camp regarding future support for light rail lines over the new bridge. It sounds a little bit like parents telling their kids that they can stop at the go-cart track “on the way back”, hoping they shut up and forget about it.

I, for one, believe the $400,000 daily cost of not having the bridge is a bit of a farce. I travel this way often and my commute has not really been affected. We are very lucky that Highway 280 is there, and it’s conversion to a temporary freeway has gone rather seamlessly. Pawlenty warns that allowing for future light rail lines on the bridge would increase the cost:

“It will be a fair amount of additional money” that would not be reimbursed by federal dollars”

Minnesotans have had some aversion to new taxes lately due to the nice propaganda machine that is the GOP, but if you step back and look at the planned transportation projects and the new bridge project, the big picture becomes clearer.

The anticipated Central Corridor project which will link downtown Minneapolis with downtown Saint Paul by way of the University of Minnesota campus and University Avenue includes plans to have light rail trains travel over the Washington Avenue bridge. This is a bridge I walked over many times in my days and “the U” and it will need significant work to be able to handle the additional weight of light rail trains. In fact when you compare my estimate of $150 million (out of my ass) with another $170 million to build a tunnel near Coffman Union on campus (that figure is not out of my ass but I cannot find where I read it just now) you are looking at over $300 million in additional spending on light rail. The extra half year and $100 million on this new bridge, that we have to build anyway, starts to look like a bargain for the tax payer. Don’t you think that if we are really building a bridge that has a 100-year lifespan, we should spend 100 days considering our options and what we can anticipate for transportation needs for the next century?

OK, the last thing I want to address is the idea that this is just a highway bridge and it should rebuilt without thought to aesthetics. Our state could certainly use another icon, and a bridge over the countries largest river seems like a good place to start – especially when you consider that (for better, or for worse, we will soon lose the loved/hated Metrodome from the Minneapolis skyline. I don’t think we need the Golden Gate Bridge or anything, but something with some character that can be identified in a photo shouldn’t be too hard to ask. Hey, true visionaries can even find ways to make manhole covers things of beauty

Proposed 35W bridge plans are a joke

“We’re adding 2 lanes.”

That was the sum total of the innovations and creative ideas the state of Minnesota could muster. Yes the first new bridge project in Minnesota spanning the Mississippi in decades is going to be a boring ass highway bridge, despite the fact that residents are clamoring for light rail options (not included), architectural beauty and creating an new icon for our state (not included), and a little patience (also not included).

I am not going to stand by, however. I have written my governor, the mayor of Minneapolis (who is championing these ideas as well), and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. I also plan on attending the public meetings at Roseville High School on Thursday night (4:30pm to 7:30pm).

If you think that our state deserves to take some time and consider some alternative bridge designs please write to you elected officials and come to the meeting tomorrow to voice your opinions.

Breaking News: Bridge over 35W Collapses

This was a major bridge for commuters and it has just collapsed. I was nearly on this road at this exact time (6:05 to 6:15 pm) but decided at the last moment to take a different route. Live video.

UPDATES:
50 or more vehicles are in the water or on fire.
KSTP Coverage (good photos)
CNN’s Coverage
Google News
Google News RSS
Surprisingly info-full Wikipedia entry of the event and the bridge.

From the entry:

The bridge was notable for not having any piers in the water. Instead, the main support piers were located on the banks of the river, and were built of tubular-shaped concrete pillars. This allowed for a wide, clear span across the river, making river navigation easier. Although not very decorative, the bridge was one of the widest bridges in the Twin Cities area and provided an important link for Interstate 35W traffic.

Map/Timeline that I would like to add to (includes where I was at the time)

MinneBar remembered

Lots of folksBy our count nearly 350 geeks and “geeks at heart” converged on the Railroader building in downtown Saint Paul this past Saturday and I think most everyone has been very positive about the result. I believe that number (or any number over 300) would make minnēbar the largest barcamp outside of India (Barcamp Bangalore 3 – just a couple weeks ago – drew over 500 people!). I know that barcamps are supposed to be about local community and ours was no exception, but it was still nice (and a little amazing) that we had quite a few people drive or fly in from New York (at least 2), South Dakota (at least 2), Wisconsin (6 or more), and Chicago (at least 1). Knowing that this event is worth someone’s Saturday is one things, but also worth a six hour drive, or several hundred dollar plane ticket? That is awesome.

I am very happy with the way the event turned out. I think the sessions, by and large, were first-rate. The special guests such as William Gurstelle and his excitement for making things that go Whoosh, Boom, Splat as well as the Scout Robots from the University of Minnesota gave a nice real-life tech component to the day. Of course David Heinemeier Hansson was a highlight as he was his usual witty and charming self. I have had lunch with him before (at Etech last year) and have seen him present, but he seemed even better in this setting. All his answers came very freely and he didn’t really seem to struggle with any of the questions. I am sure he had been asked about such things time and time again. Even so, I thought Jamie Thingelstad did a very good job with his side of the interview, as well.

I was very worried that the size of the crowds would really take away from the intimacy and sense of participation that is crucial to barcamps, but I don’t think these fears turned out to be warranted. Plenty of people talked between sessions or headed off to an “ad hoc session room” to discuss this or that and the sessions (with a few exceptions) never got too full. I still believe that the 50 minute session length is good. It is not so much that it can get too detailed so people really have to know their stuff. I spoke with Shourya Sarcar, one of the planners of barcamp Bangalore, and he said that one of the differences between the Minnesota and Bangalore barcamps was that their sessions are 30 minutes and that they “vote with their feet” meaning they leave a session if it is no good, or not what they had hoped. Minnesota “nice” retards that practice a bit, but there was still some wandering between sessions.
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Its the little truths in life that make all the difference.

If you have never been, the Minnesota State Fair would probably seem like any other state or county fair or carnival you may have been to, only larger. But if you grew up near the fair, and had your parents bring you each year to gorge on deep fried things on sticks, you would know that it is oh so much more.

Sure to the uninitiated it seems like a crowded, sweaty, smelly place to drink cheap beer and grease-filled food. To those who know it however, and know all of its intricacies, it becomes a place that is crowded, sweaty, smelly, filled with cheap bear and greasy food, of course, but also a wondrous place teeming with toothless carnies calling out your manhood to entice you to “win yer lady” a sawdust-filled bear; a place to actually witness the last shred of dignity leave the bodies of countless aging rock & roll acts making a last ditch tour through the Midwest before finally drifting off where only the stories they tell their grandkids remind them of when they were once really hip, honest.

Sure you may not hold much interest in this year’s prize-winning sow or the latest in farming implements, but who can withstand the draw of thousands of drunk people stepping on your heels and spilling their favorite grain-derived beverage on your pants, not to mention the endless barrage of rhetoric from the multitudes of media outlets, political parties, and countless products vying for your collective, patronage, support, dollars, etc? Can you really ask for anything more?

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A lesson in economics for today’s investor. I bet a lot of dot comers wish they had that beer investment right about now.

Status

I am off to the “Great Minnesota Get Together” otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair. Alternatively, you could call it “Gorge Yourself Until You Are Sick” or “This Probably Should Not be Served on a Stick”, but they don’t have the best ring to them.

I plan on eating a lot of deep fried things, window shopping for windows (and other home improvement-type things) and look over some political candidates’ platforms. I’ll try to avoid carnies, large farm equipment, and anything with a sign above it with the words “Beer” and “Garden”.