Richard P. Braun
I am sad to read that: Former MnDOT Commissioner Richard Braun has died at 91. I held the RP Braun/ CTS Chair in Transportation at the University of Minnesota for 10 years, so in a sense I bore his name, repeating his every time I introduced myself.
Honestly, I didn't really know him that well at a personal level, we met at CTS events, but the times we met he was both charming and sharp, as well as straight-forward and supportive. While his demeanor was genial, funny, and good-natured, he was also someone for whom no wool would cover his eyes. He was one of the few people whom everyone that I respected, respected. My sense (and the obituary article reiterates this) is the biggest call of his time leading MnDOT was closing the St. Paul High Bridge for safety reasons. I think too many people are afraid to make hard decisions, and the short-term expediency of keeping each and every road rolling takes too high a priority.
I will note that I was also given the Braun Distinguished Service Award by CTS a few years ago (which is normally given to faculty nearer retirement, so I took it as a hint).
Update May 1, 2017: Bob Benke writes in:
Heartily agree with your comments in response to Dick's passing and contributions to the the State of Minnesota, and to the broader transportation profession. Backstory: I also agree on your targeting the St. Paul High Bridge decision as a premier example of his judgement and commitment to safety and the community. I happened to have just been appointed as the MN/DOT District 9 (at that time) Preliminary Design Engineer responsible for managing the High Bridge replacement project. When Commissioner Braun made his decision to close the bridge earlier than anticipated by the two neighborhood communities most directly impacted, we had to quickly deal with previous agreements after years of discussions with them on the bridge 'tied arch' design and how to handle the staging. The sudden closure changed the game. As part of the sudden 'Old Bridge Loss" discussions, we suggested a "celebration". The community responded and organized a 'funeral procession' over the bridge before it was closed and then brought down by explosives with a community watching. I authorized and there is a document some where in the archives a photo essay on the old bridge. My copy got ruined We then ran into an FHWA demand that there be an alternative steel/vs concrete design comparison of design options. We asked for examples of other comparisons. Our analysis of their a examples showed numerous flaws. Turned out that the cost of building concrete was costlier and took longer that the built bridge design option. Sen. Durenburger helped us get expedited approval to proceed with the design and construction of the new bridge. I also had the pleasure of working with Dick and Bob Johns from the first days when CTS was a 2 guy office in the CE building. I moved on to the MnDOT Office of Research and, through several mutations, worked with Bob as the $$ link to MnDOT that funded some of your projects. Still think that matching Researchers with Users of Research was our best win!