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Report: FIU Bridge Showed Cracking 10 Days Before Collapse

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

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Cracks developing along a key support truss under the Florida International University pedestrian bridge, which collapsed in March, were a source of concern 10 days before the structure was put into place, according to reports. Engineers have stepped forward to offer their expertise on the matter.

The documentation was unintentionally released via email by the university, according to a report Tuesday (May 8) published by the Miami Herald.

Bridge Collapse

On March 14, the pedestrian bridge 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 March 10, 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 Herald, and the process—known as Accelerated Bridge Construction—was touted by FIU as an innovative “instant” bridge technique.

National Transportation Safety Board, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cracks developing along a key support truss under the Florida International University pedestrian bridge, which collapsed in March, were a source of concern 10 days before the structure was put into place, according to reports. Engineers have stepped forward to offer their expertise on the matter.

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

Bridge Cracking

The Herald asked four engineers—David Beck, a New Hampshire engineer who uncovered issues for Boston’s Big Dig project; Linwood Howell, a senior engineer for a Texas firm that specializes in bridge design and inspection; and Ralph Verrastro of Naples—to examine the documentation, which included photos, records and bridge blueprints. (The fourth engineer asked to not be identified.)

Many agreed that the cracks signified potentially critical structural issues. Truss No. 11 was specifically identified by outside engineers as being “under-designed.” Largely, the engineers noted that the cracks that appear in the photos taken by the university should have prompted a cessation of work and an in-depth review, which would have likely resulted in the truss being re-engineered and reinforced. Verrastro said the cracks did not appear “significant” to him.

"The photos don't clearly provide any clues to me related to ultimate failure," Verrastro told the Herald. "I would assume these cracks would have been repaired by epoxy injection before the bridge was moved."

Given that the university and state transportation officials have yet to release the appropriate documentation—they were told to do so by the National Transportation Safety Board—it’s difficult to determine the university’s response to the cracks.

February Memo

In a memo dated Feb. 28, FIU consulting engineer Jose Morales noted that one crack in particular was worth “special attention,” going on to urge that the bridge engineer of record be consulted. That bridge engineer was Pate, of FIGG Bridge Group, the designer of the bridge.

While an investigation by the NTSB is currently underway, the agency has instructed both the university and the Florida Department of Transportation to not release any documents dated after Feb. 19. The Herald has sued to obtain related records.

National Transportation Safety Board, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While an investigation by the NTSB is currently underway, the agency has instructed both the university and the Florida Department of Transportation to not release any documents dated after Feb. 19. 

The memo dated Feb. 28 and the attached records were released in error by FIU, according to reports. A lawyer representing the university instructed the Herald to delete the documents, but the Herald’s own attorney response was that the publication was within its First Amendment rights to publish the information.

The memo at issue details that the cracks were discovered while the span was still on the ground, after the removal of temporary shoring. According to Beck and Howell, at that point the span was only supported by a support at either end, replicating the way it would look once installed completely. The cracks could have been indicative of shearing pressure that the No. 11 truss could not handle at the full weight it was intended to bear.

Many of the consulted and outside engineers agree that the place where the cracking occurred was poorly designed, lacking sufficient steel and concrete. Final, definitive results will have to wait until the NTSB publishes its investigation, however.

Outside of the investigation, lawsuits have been filed: Marquise Rashaad Hepburn sued, saying he was “seriously injured” as he rode his bicycle underneath the pedestrian bridge. In early April, Richard Humble, a 19-year-old FIU student, also announced his own lawsuit, which focused on alleged negligence and the fact that companies did not shut down 8th Street as they tightened steel rods on the cracked end of the span. In late April, Winsome Joy Campbell, the widow of a 37-year-old Sunrise construction worker employed on the project, filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

   

Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Bridges; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Safety

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