Let the idea die with them

April 3, 2018

Southwest 8th Street is no place for another bridge

The Red Parking Garage on the campus of Florida International University (FIU) was more like a salmon color.

In fact, when a student pointed to it and said “red” I just went along with the direction, hoping to somehow find my way to the remains of the pedestrian bridge that collapsed and killed six on March 15.

The student was right; time had faded the pride of the Red Parking Garage. When I reached the top floor to get the perfect view as to what the NTSB was doing to the final portion of the collapsed structure, which just happened to be the troubled north section, most of the rubble was already scooped and put aside. Still, the sight of the 174-ft section lifeless on top of traffic will never start failing the test of time. It will be there, in plain view, forever.

Over the past few weeks there has been plenty of opinions about the cause of collapse, who is to blame and why the street remained open to traffic during the post-tension exercise. This column looked entirely different on the afternoon of March 26, when I was waving sticks of dynamite and blasting all those involved. I came to my senses and let my delete button take over en route to a better angle.

During a conference call in late March, FIU president Mark Rosenberg and other officials from the city of Sweetwater said a few people were polled, and 100% were in favor of rebuilding this bridge. It sounds like the powers at hand would like nothing more than to raise victorious from the ruins with a bigger and better bridge. Heck, let’s plant a flag pole at the top of both ends, one waving the FIU colors and the other flapping the USA Bridge Power colors, whatever those are.

I’m here to say let’s not rebuild from above. Officials had one shot at building this span, and that shot went terribly off the mark. My professional life has been dedicated to the bridge-building industry and the engineers, contractors and government officials who support it. I want nothing more than the market to thrive—the world could use a million more bridges, I say. But not here, not where six unfortunate souls lost their lives. Not where students, faculty and residents climb to the top of the Red-Salmon Parking Garage every day and ask why such a bridge failure had to happen. Build a memorial if you have the angst to construct something, but ideas for another bridge should never hit a blueprint. Why? The reason is obvious: FIU will never be able to escape the haunting image of the first one sprawled over Southwest 8th Street. We are now dealing with hallowed ground; spirits should not be disturbed. Do I sound voodoo-ish? OK, then here is my other angle: Who now wants to be at a red light underneath a bridge on Southwest 8th Street? Who now wants to drive under a bridge on Southwest 8th Street? The negative vibe runs thick and is everlasting. You can build a spectacular structure. It could be the greatest engineering feat the world has ever housed, but it will still be tainted, cursed, jinxed. Remove the stoplight if you think it would help exorcise these demons, but it will not.

Traffic calming is very common here in the U.S. and abroad, and there are plenty that can replace a bridge at this site. Roundabouts and rumble strips are viable options that will help protect pedestrians.

My guess is FIU will build again, which means it will fail again.

About The Author: Wilson is editorial director of Roads & Bridges.

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