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FIU Bridge Cracks Reportedly Initially Dismissed

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

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At a hearing connected to last year’s bridge collapse at Florida International University, lawyers presented documents alleging that engineers dismissed cracks found in the bridge prior to the disaster.

The original meeting in question, when these claims were made, was held in the morning on March 15, 2018. The bridge collapsed during post-tensioning that same day, killing six—five civilians, one employee of subcontractor VSL.

What Happened

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.

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 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 National Transportation Safety Board's investigation meant they could not be released publicly.

National Transportation Safety Board, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At a hearing connected to last year’s bridge collapse at Florida International University, lawyers presented documents that allege that engineers dismissed cracks found in the bridge prior to the disaster as not posing any safety concern.

In August, Leon County state court Judge Kevin Carroll ruled that FDOT must release the records associated with the tragedy. A federal judge, though, quickly stepped in and blocked the release of the documents. 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.

Recent Hearing

In previously sealed court pleadings, which were recently obtained by the investigative team of NBC 6 South Florida, MCM apparently reported three days before the collapse that there was worsening cracking of the bridge. MCM told FIGG that the cracks were “rather large and/or of concern.”

The morning of March 13, FIGG's president, Linda Figg, emailed Pate, noting that it was important to address the issue. Pate informed FDOT of the cracking, and Pate’s supervisor emailed MCM, noting that FIGG did “not see this as a safety issue.”

Around that time, FIGG’s engineers decided to move forward with a repair method, the first step of which involved tightening steel bars that ran through the cracking truss. In using this method, stress would be moved away from the from the area where the truss being tightened encountered the bridge deck. That process was to be implemented two days later.

During the meeting in 2018, someone from Bolton Perez & Associates, a firm providing project construction engineering and inspection services, asked FIGG if the repair plan had been peer-reviewed by others in engineering. FIGG said that it had not.

FIGG later challenged the accuracy of the meeting minutes prepared by BP&A, going on to provide its own “corrected minutes” to the NTSB. Neither version of these meeting minutes have been made completely public, as the NTSB has put a hold on much of the public information about the bridge collapse.

The attorney for Louis Berger Group, which was hired to do an independent peer review of FIGG's work and is also being sued in these civil cases, noted that FIGG’s and BP&A’s versions vary regarding cracking and who noticed it; who made the call to proceed with re-tensioning; and if FIGG’s repair plan was, in fact, peer-reviewed.


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

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