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Report: Design Flaws Found in FIU Bridge Design

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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More than eight months after the bridge collapse at Florida International University, the National Transportation Safety Board has released another preliminary report that indicates there were errors in the design that likely contributed to the accident.

Investigators did not name these design errors as being the cause of the collapse, however. Experts from the Federal Highway Administration worked with the NTSB on the investigation.

Bridge Collapse History

The bridge collapsed during post-tensioning on March 15, killing five civilians and one employee of subcontractor VSL.

FIU is home to the Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center, a multi-university center promoting ABC techniques. The pedestrian bridge was touted as an example of innovative design and construction meant to limit road closures and inconvenience stemming from the otherwise lengthy bridge construction process.

National Transportation Safety Board

More than eight months after the bridge collapse at Florida international University, the National Transportation Safety Board has released another preliminary report that indicates there were errors in the design that likely contributed to the accident.

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.

In early May, the Miami Herald sued after two months of attempts to access documents related to the collapse and the span's condition, and in early June, the Florida Department of Transportation asked a County Circuit Court judge to dismiss the suit. The newspaper said the agency acknowledged that the records fell under the state’s open-records law, but FDOT argued that their pertinence to the NTSB's investigation means they could not be released publicly. In August, Leon County state court Judge Kevin Carroll ruled that FDOT must release the records associated with the tragedy. A federal judge quickly stepped in and blocked the release of the documents however.

In September, a preliminary report from the NSTB indicated that cracks found in the bridge a few days before it collapsed were much more extensive than originally thought. Also in September, it came to light that 26 threaded steel rods—the kind being tightened on the bridge at the time of the collapse—were melted down after being removed from the site. Late last month, an audit conducted by the U.S. Transportation Department inspector general’s office indicated that there was no evidence that the Obama administration’s 2013 grant was a factor in the accident.

Preliminary NTSB Report

After an examination of the bridge, the newest report says that design errors were made in the northernmost portion of the 174-foot-long bridge, where two truss members were connected to the bridge deck. According to the report, this resulted in the “overestimation of the capacity (resistance) of a critical section through the node comprised of diagonal member 11 and vertical member 12; and apparent underestimation of the demand (load) on that same critical section." The FHWA evaluation further determined that the cracking found in the node before the accident is consistent with the errors found.

Experts with the FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center also tested the concrete and steel used in the bridge project, with initial testing finding that samples from the bridge deck and canopy meet compression and air content requirements so far. Steel reinforcing bar and post-tensioning rod samples also met the minimum yield strength, tensile strength and percent elongation at fracture specifications. Otherwise, testing is still ongoing.


Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Bridges; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Program/Project Management

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (11/20/2018, 11:41 AM)

So preliminary findings are that someone messed up the design and that evidence handling after the collapse wasn't done properly. Is anyone overly surprised? Bueller? Bueller? After all, if a bridge falls down as it's being built, there are three likely causes: someone designed it wrong, someone built it wrong or the stuff used to build it had something wrong with it.

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (11/20/2018, 1:44 PM)

The final report should be interesting in identifying root causes of the engineering deficiencies and actions to hold persons accountable.

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