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Replacement Announced for Collapsed FIU Bridge

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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Last week, officials from Florida’s Department of Transportation announced that they would be launching a bid process for the design and construction of a new “signature” bridge over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami-Dade County along the Florida International University campus.

The pedestrian bridge would replace the FIU structure that collapsed in March 2018, which caused six fatalities.

FIU Bridge Collapse

FIU is home to the Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center, a multi-university center promoting ABC techniques. At the time of its construction, the $14.2 million 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.

During construction, the 950-ton, 174-foot-long span was assembled alongside the road while support columns were erected in place and 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 CNN, shortly after the span was installed, W. Denney Pate, employed with 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. Other engineers, though, had deemed the structural integrity of the span safe just hours before the incident.

Earlier on the day of the collapse, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the bridge had undergone a “stress test." 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.

By June, in the 115-page report, federal work-safety investigators determined that the street that ran under the bridge should have been shut down because of cracks in the structure. Parties involved failed to recognize the danger due to design errors. Later that same month, the project’s lead technical designer testified during a pretrial hearing regarding evidence. This was the first time he had commented since the tragedy. In August, other companies being sued in light of the incident decided to settle.

Investigation Findings

In October, the National Transportation Safety Board released 6,300 pages of documentation detailing its examination of contractors on the project. One engineer reportedly claimed that the highway underneath the bridge should have been closed while the project was ongoing.

Although FIGG and Berger were identified as the primary contributors to the FIU bridge collapse, the NTSB noted that MCM, Bolton Perez and Associates Consulting Engineers, FIU and the Florida Department of Transportation's failure to cease bridge work and close the SW 8th Street to protect public safety also contributed to the severity of the collapse’s outcome.

“Errors in bridge design, inadequate peer review and poor engineering judgment led to the collapse of this bridge,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “The failure of all concerned parties, to recognize and take action on the threat to public safety presented by the significant observed bridge structure distress prior to the collapse, led to the tragic loss of life in this preventable accident.”

Throughout the investigation, the NTSB found that:

  • Concrete and steel materials used during construction of the bridge were not a factor in its collapse and the hydraulic jack used to post-tension the steel rods in member 11 was operating as expected at the time of the collapse;
  • The restressing of member 11 was a manipulation of loads to address structural cracking of unknown origin, constituting a change to the FIGG design, and the measure should have been independently reviewed by a professional engineer before being implemented;
  • FIGG’s bridge design was nonredundant because it provided only a singular load path;
  • FIGG’s construction plans inconsistently identified when intentionally roughened surfaces were needed to fulfill assumptions of the bridge design;
  • Even if the cold joint surface of nodal region 11/12 had been roughened to a 0.25-inch amplitude, node 11/12 would not have had sufficient capacity to counteract the demand load for interface shear—and the bridge would still have been under-designed and could have failed;
  • The rate of premature concrete distress was clear evidence the structure was progressing toward failure and should have alerted FIGG and MCM to the origin of the distress; and
  • The Florida Department of Transportation should have verified Louis Berger’s qualifications as an independent peer review firm as part of FDOT’s oversight of local agency program projects.

Of these findings and others totaling 30 discoveries made about the incident, the NTSB issued various safety recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration, the Florida Department of Transportation, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and FIGG.

In November, the NTSB issued a full report containing the probable cause, findings and safety recommendations made from its investigation.

What’s Happening Now

According to The Miami Herald, FDOT intends to restart the project using enhanced safety measures and safety recommendations made by the NTSB. For the new project, the Department will also select a project team and directly oversee the construction process.

“FDOT has learned valuable lessons since the tragic events surrounding the FIU bridge collapse two years ago," FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault, P.E., said in a statement. "The department has worked closely with the NTSB and local partners to ensure proactive safety measures are included in the plans for this much-needed bridge. The department will ensure all safety measures are in place and are followed so we may provide a safe option for pedestrians in this high-traffic area.”

Although FDOT is also slated to choose the project’s new design, the Department intends to consult with FIU on the aesthetics. The collaboration comes as an FIU spokesperson reports that the new bridge must still hew to the original vision and that designing a “signature bridge” is a condition of the federal TIGER grants.

Overall, the design build project is slated to cost $14.6 million. However, the infrastructure plans to be paid for using $9.5 million received as a contractor settlement from the failed bridge, roughly $3.3 million in federal TIGER grants and other unspecified grants from the state and other agencies.

While an official design has yet to be announced, FIU senior vice president Kenneth Jessell issued a statement saying that the structure planned to memorialize the victims of the 2018 accident.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with FDOT and the City of Sweetwater on the new bridge to help keep our students safe,” Jessell added.

Moving forward, the design process is slated to begin in early 2021 and will take roughly two years to complete. Construction of the bridge is also expected to take two years, suggesting a project completion date by 2025.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Bridges; Construction; Department of Transportation (DOT); Design; Design build; Health and safety; NA; North America; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Program/Project Management; Project Management; Upcoming projects

Comment from Kay Melcher, (5/13/2020, 10:20 AM)

Are they going to follow conventional (i.e., proven and safe) design and construction methods this time, or repeat their fabulous "innovative" approach?

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