Shhhhh! Fern Hollow Bridge secrets

Shhhhh! Fern Hollow Bridge secrets

As troubling as is the Post-Gazette report that inspectors did not red-flag the Fern Hollow Bridge for critical structural deficiencies in the months before its January collapse, there’s something equally troubling:

The state’s redactions in the inspection report obtained by the P-G through a Right-to-Know request.

An independent engineer asked by the P-G to review what could be gleaned from the inspection report was amazed that the span, which collapsed on Jan. 28, was not closed immediately following its last inspection the prior October.

And do remember, the span’s weight limit also was not reduced.

But then the P-G notes thusly:

“While much of the report revealed glaring deficiencies, other parts were replete with redactions, including words that described the timing of inspections. The state even blacked out the title of one page that was originally included in the table of contents at the beginning of the report.

“Even though the Fern Hollow Bridge no longer exists, Alexis Campbell, PennDOT’s chief spokeswoman, said in an email that some of the information was redacted because it could get in the wrong hands.

“’Certain information, if made publicly available, would show fracture critical information … and otherwise show information about ways in which bridges could be intentionally damaged,’ Ms. Campbell said.

Continued the P-G:

“She added that what was left to read in the report balances ‘the Administration’s commitment to transparency with appropriate measures that are necessary to protect the safety of the commonwealth’s infrastructure.”

Nothing like talking in circles.

So, “The State” was woefully deficient in protecting the motoring public and it continues to refuse to release key information – Why else would it be redacted? – to protect a collapsed bridge’s safety?

Now there’s a neat spate of bureaucratic “logic.”

Just for the record, the P-G says one of the report’s redactions recorded not only those “findings of ‘fracture critical members’” but also ‘fatigue prone details’ – key information that can shed light on a bridge’s condition.”

As a follow-up P-G editorial poked the state censors:

“The Wolf administration says the redactions are needed ‘to protect the safety of the commonwealth’s infrastructure’ from bad actors. Please. A terrorist with an internet connection could figure out a bridge’s weaknesses in 30 minutes.”

Reasonable people might conclude that these “protective” redactions of “The State” are the latest in a long line of bureaucratic exercises in covering one’s behind.

The bottom line remains that the public has every right to know such things. Had it, perhaps — just perhaps — the collapse that injured nine people, some seriously, could have been avoided.

Paying lip service to “transparency” openly mocks sound public policy.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).