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Plans for Replacement FIU Bridge Move Forward

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

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Plans to rebuild the Florida International University pedestrian bridge are moving forward. The news arrives nearly three years after the structure’s collapse, which caused six fatalities and several injuries.

In a recent meeting, the university’s board of trustees approved the transfer of $9.1 million to FDOT, which will oversee the design and construction of the bridge, The Miami Herald reported. The money transfer includes the $8.5 million settlement with the contractors on the failed bridge.

Moving forward, the design process is slated to begin soon 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.

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.

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, FDOT, 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.

By August 2020, FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc., along with FIGG engineer William “Denney” Pate, announced that they were suing the Federal Highway Administration for the agency’s suspension of its eligibility to participate in federally funding projects, pending debarment proceedings.

The news came after it was announced in July that FHWA suspended FIGG from participating in federally funded projects and, at the time, proposed a 10-year debarment period for the firm. According to USDOT correspondence, the decision directly derived from FIGG’s role in the deadly March 2018 Florida International University bridge collapse and the role that the National Transportation Safety Board determined that FIGG played.

FIGG had 30 days to contest, which it did on Aug. 11, by filing a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the FHWA.

The suspension went into effect July 14.

Rebuilding the FIU Bridge

Last year, officials from FDOT announced in May 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.

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

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.


Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Fatalities; Health and safety; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Transportation; Upcoming projects

Comment from Mark Taylor, (3/9/2021, 8:27 AM)

I hope they have the good sense to temporarily close traffic underneath when the next structure is being set. The hubris of men.....

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