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Cause Unknown in Fatal FL Bridge Collapse

Monday, March 19, 2018

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A pedestrian bridge located near Florida International University collapsed Thursday afternoon (March 15), killing at least six people and injuring at least a dozen more. The cause of the incident is under investigation.

The bridge, which was under construction at the time of the incident, was designed to give university students a safe way to cross the busy Tamiami Trail, where a student was struck and killed last year.

What We Know

At around 2 p.m. the span—which had just been set in place on Saturday (March 10)—collapsed across eight lanes of the busy road below, flattening several vehicles.

The 950-ton, 174-foot-long span was assembled alongside the road while support columns were erected in place. On Saturday, the span was lifted off the ground with a mechanical transporter, swung into position, then lowered onto the support columns. Sliding it into place took six hours, noted the Miami Herald, and the process—known as Accelerated Bridge Construction—was touted by FIU as an innovative “instant” bridge technique.

The project was far from complete, however, with the opening date slated for 2019. The bridge was designed only for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Earlier on the day of the collapse, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the bridge had undergone a “stress test,” but it was unclear if this had anything to do with what occurred. Florida Senator Marco Rubio noted on Twitter that the cables that suspended the bridge had loosened, and the engineering firm ordered for them to be tightened. The cables were being tightened at the time of the collapse.

According to CNN, the $14.2 million project was funded as part of a $19.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, intended to connect the school's campus to the Sweetwater neighborhood. The span was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, and was supposed to last for more than 100 years.

The span’s design was for a cable-supported bridge, with the work being done in collaboration by Miami-based MCM Construction, and Tallahassee-based FIGG Bridge Design. According to the Miami Herald, FIGG was also responsible for the iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge that runs across Tampa Bay.

According to CNN, shortly after the span was installed, W. Denney Pate, a FIGG engineer, noticed there was an issue—a crack had formed along the north side of the bridge, and repairs were needed.

"But from a safety perspective, we don't see that there's any issue there so we're not concerned about it from that perspective," said Pate in a voicemail to a Florida Department of Transportation employee on Tuesday (March 13). "Although obviously the cracking is not good and something's going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that."

The voicemail went unheard until Friday, the day after the bridge collapsed. The employee the message was meant for was out on assignment.

Other engineers had also deemed the structural integrity of the span safe just hours before the incident. 

Representatives from FIU, the Florida Department of Transportation, Munilla Construction Management and FIGG Bridge Engineers attended a meeting Thursday morning to discuss the cracking issue, which concluded that there were no safety concerns, and the crack did not comrpromise the structural integrity of the bridge.

At the Scene

Six were confirmed dead. The rescue teams with specially trained dogs and listening devices searched through the wreckage on Thursday and into Friday, bringing in heavy equipment to aid in digging through the rubble. Five were pronounced dead on site, and another died at the hospital. Later on Friday morning, the search and rescue had turned into a recovery mission, meaning that police believed there are no more survivors.

Ten injured were admitted to the Kendall Regional Medical Center, and director Mark McKenney told ABC News the patients being treated were from 20 to 50 years old, and were level-one trauma patients. Eight others were admitted with broken bones, bruises and abrasions. It's unclear how many others have been admitted to other facilities. The recovery mission was set to last through the weekend.

"There is the sad possibility that under the concrete there may be additional vehicles," said Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department. "The engineers are working at it in a very tactical way. The structure is fragile and could be dangerous to rescue personnel."

Rubio has sworn to an “exhaustive” review with scrutiny of “science and engineering” of what went into the project. The National Transportation Safety Board has also announced that it will dispatch a team of 15 investigators who, over the coming months, will determine what caused the bridge to fail. A definitive cause behind the collapse has yet to be determined.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Health and safety; Infrastructure

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