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Aidan Hamilton

Design & Society


Betsy Natter
April 14th, 2015
In Defense of the Social Responsibility PCI Has For the Collapse of I35W Bridge
On August 1st, 2007 the I35W bridge collapsed killing 13 people and injuring many
more. Questions of who was responsible for such a tragic incident immediately surfaced, and a
large amount of guilt was placed on progressive contractors inc (PCI). PCI was a company that
was doing work on the bridge at the time of it's collapse. After reviewing the facts surrounding
the incident I wish to make a case that PCI holds little of the ethical responsibility for the
collapse of the bridge.
I truly believe that progressive contractors inc shared little to no responsibility for this
tragedy, they were simply another victim of a terrible situation. While it is true that aggregate
material as well as the construction equipment, concentrated as they were, were main cause of
the gusset plate breaking, which lead to the collapse of the bridge. However there were no codes,
no procedures in place that would have lead them to suspect that the concentration of their load
would put the bridge at risk. They obeyed the letter of the law in every case during their work, if
there was any concern voiced by any official they would have avoided such a concentration of
load. They even asked an MnDot official whether placing the aggregate where it was placed
would be okay, in spite of no procedure requiring them to do so, and received an answer that
couldn't have been interpreted as anything but permission. The man they asked in retrospect was
not qualified to make such an assessment but progressive contractors inc could not have known
that. MnDot claims that they should have been asked "correctly" regarding the placement of

aggregate in spite of no procedure prior to collapse in how they should ask "correctly". They
didn't even have a procedure that required them to ask in the first place, which i the fault of
MnDot.
Even if progressive contractors inc asked MnDot "correctly" it is highly likely that they
would have gotten permission because the load the progressive contractors inc was putting on the
bridge was far under the load bearing capacity of the bridge. This was shown after the collapse of
the bridge by computer simulations preformed using the same program MnDot would have used
(this program did not include gusset plates in its calculations) to determine if progressive
contractors inc could place the aggregates where it was placed. MnDot would have had no
method to determine if the aggregates could be placed where they were except by using this
program, which would have shown that the aggregates should be safe. MnDot would have had
no reason to deny the request of progressive contractors inc.
If the bridge was designed correctly, had gusset plates of the appropriate thickness, the
bridge would not have collapsed under the load of progressive contractors aggregate and
equipment. If the bridge had been properly inspected and maintained by MnDot, the bridge
would easily have withstood progressive contractors inc's load. If they had had any indication
that placing a concentrated load could be detrimental to the safety of the bridge because the
gusset plates of the bridge had begun to bow, as shown in an early investigation by URS, they
would not have placed the aggregate where they did. They simply were provided with a lack of
information. While it can be argued that progressive contractors inc had the responsibility to seek
out this information and voice these concerns themselves, instead of MnDot having the
responsibility to provide the information and the hypothesis, I feel that as there was no obvious
channel for them to take to accomplish this, it would have been extraordinarily difficult for PCI

to obtain this information. And to then be expected to have accurately made the conclusion that
concentrated loads could be dangerous when MnDot wouldn't have is placing too much
responsibility on PCI, which is just a contracting firm.
It must be remembered that PCI tried to avoid having to stockpile aggregate like that.
They petitioned to close extra lanes of traffic to allow them to avoid this a total of three times,
and were denied every time. The only alternative to stockpiling given to them was to mix the
concrete offsite and have it driven in a conveyer belt of vehicles, which would have been
expensive and required the closure of extra lanes of traffic. This was a request that was
consistently denied to them.
The fact that PCI had no information about the danger that the poorly designed gusset
plates posed, they could have been expected to realize the potential calamity that their
concentrated load would cause. All the information at their disposal indicated that the weight of
their load would not be an issue. They had no guidelines or procedures to tell them that in spite
of the load being far below the allowed limit, the concentration of it in that particular area could
cause great harm. It is not a matter of incompetence, laziness, poor safety considerations that
caused that load to be placed where it was, but simply a lack of information on PCI's front.
Information that mostly didn't exist until after the crash, and the few hints that existed prior (the
URS report), they had no clear method given to them to find that information. It is unlikely that
even if they had looked for it they wouldn't have found anything, as MnDot did not consider the
gusset plates to be a serious issue, evidenced by their unwillingness to follow through with any
of URS's recommendations. As such I don't feel that the ethical responsibility of the collapse of
the bridge should rest on PCI, however the legal responsibility, which is more directly related to
the money PCI should pay victims, is a much more complicated issue that this essay is not trying

to argue.