Engineer did not see safety issue with FIU bridge, but 'cracking is not good'

March 17, 2018

Florida DOT received eerie message day after fatal collapse; designer calls for time for thorough investigation

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) stepped in on Friday with what could be a vital piece of information concerning the Florida International University (FIU) pedestrian bridge that collapsed on March 15 in the city of Sweetwater.

FDOT revealed the span’s designer, FIGG Bridge Engineers, contacted an employee at the state agency two days before the fatal fall and left a voicemail regarding cracking observed on the north end of the span. FDOT did not receive the message until a day after the span slammed down on Southwest Eighth Street while drivers were at a stop light, killing at least six. Some people are still missing.

“We’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs . . . will have to be done,” FIGG Bridge Engineer W. Denney Pate said in the message he left, “but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there is any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective.” Pate continued, “Obviously the cracking is not good and something is going to have to be . . . done to repair that.”

It has been reported that crews were on-site at the time of the bridge collapse, but it is still unclear what exactly those workers were doing. The NTSB was still trying to get access to the accident scene on Friday, as first responders continued recovery efforts. FIGG Bridge Engineers has turned over all media relations involving the bridge collapse to Sachs Media Group, which sent a statement via email regarding the latest development to Roads & Bridges magazine.

“FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc. continues to work diligently with the construction team to help determine the cause of the collapse of the pedestrian bridge that was under construction at Florida International University. We are heartbroken by the loss of life and injuries, and are carefully examining the steps that our team has taken in the interest of our overarching concern for public safety.

“The evaluation was based on the best available information at that time and indicated that there were no safety issues. We will pursue answers to find out what factors led to this tragic situation, but it is important that the agencies responsible for investigating this devastating situation are given the appropriate time in order to accurately identify what factors led to the accident during construction. We are committed to working with all appropriate authorities throughout this process.”

FDOT said it never received direct contact from FIGG or FIU about a dangerous situation.

“The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design-build team,” FDOT said. “At no point during any of the communications did FIGG or any member of the FIU design-build team ever communicate a life-safety issue.”