I-35W Bridge Update - Week 18

Week 18 by Ivy Chang | September 28, 2010

On Monday, December 10, the Minnesota Department of Employee Relations reprimanded two upper managers and suspended one manager at the Minnesota Department of Transportation for failure to provide adequate supervision to Sonia Pitt, the Homeland Security Emergency Management director who was fired in early November.

On November 15, the Minnesota Department of Employee Relations requested an independent investigation to determine the scope of supervision and oversight of Pitt. Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A. signed a contract with the state to look into the result of findings from the previous investigation of numerous improprieties of Pitt.

Report finds inadequate supervision

The report concluded that Pitt’s first supervisor, Rick Arneback, had minimal contact with her on a daily basis, reviewed her expense reports with a glance, and did not know Pitt had a state credit card, much less reviewed her credit card logs. However, the oversights were not intentional.
Pitt was transferred to another department during a re-organization and reported to a maintenance engineer, Steve Lund, who was “more vigilant in his oversight of Ms. Pitt’s expenses,” the report states.

When he didn’t understand the expenses, he returned the bill for more explanations from Pitt. He admitted he did not understand Pitt’s department or her role and began an informal investigation into Pitt’s travel and expense irregularities.

Lund was not aware of Pitt’s excessive calls on her state cell phone because he never saw the telephone bills, according to MnDOT’s policy. On August 1 following the bridge collapse, Lund did not require Pitt to return to Minnesota in part, he said, because he did not fully understand Pitt’s duties in emergency response.

Lund’s supervisor, Bob Winter, didn’t know Pitt was not in Minnesota until several days later.

Commissioner issued reprimands and a suspension

Employee Relations’ commissioner Patricia Anderson suspended Arneback for three days, issued a written reprimand to Lund and verbally reprimanded Winter. Anderson stated that Arnebeck’s lax oversight “had extremely damaging consequences for the department and, to a degree, the image of all state employees, which cannot be tolerated.”

Democratic legislators commented that reprimands were “an inadequate response” and blamed MnDOT Commissioner Carol Molnau for the problems.

Construction continues in freezing weather

The snow and freezing temperatures in Minneapolis did not stop construction crews from working at the I-35W bridge site. Project managers created a plan that considers the cold conditions crews will experience over the next few months.

Crews used cranes equipped with large drilling rigs to build shafts that will support bridge foundations on both sides of the Mississippi River. On December 4, crews filled the first shaft with concrete. Work will continue into February except when the temperature drops below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Forms to build the concrete footings began to take shape at the south abutment; setup work continues on the casting yard on I-35W south of the bridge site and workers are building casting beds used to construct pre-cast concrete segments for the bridge spans. Crew may begin pouring the segments in late January. Materials and equipment continue to arrive at the site as construction progresses into the next stages.

Traffic delays everywhere

Traffic at I-35W and Crosstown Highway 62 continue to slow traffic in Minneapolis. The eastbound exit ramp from Highway 62 to Portland Avenue closed and will reopen next fall. I-35W exit ramps to 46th Street will not close until February but the entrance ramps are closed.
With no major bridge, the continued construction at various segments of I-35W and the unfinished Wakota Bridge, traffic is extremely slow around the Twin Cities. Last week’s 6 inches of snow delayed commuting times by as much as four hours in the evening.