In­ves­ti­ga­tion intensifies on FIU bridge col­lapse

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By K. BAR­RETT BILALI

MI­AMI - At least six peo­ple are con­firmed dead af­ter the 950-ton pedes­trian bridge col­lapsed over the Southwest Eight Street. The bridge was con­structed at a cost of $19.4 mil­lion to pro­vide greater safety for stu­dents who had to cross an eight-lane high­way to at­tend classes at the uni­ver­sity.

Con­struc­tion crews put the struc­ture in place only five days be­fore its col­lapse.

So far, first re­spon­ders were able to take ten sur­vivors to the lo­cal hos­pi­tal; two are in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

The in­ter­sec­tion is still closed as re­cov­ery ef­forts have been de­layed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties that more of the struc­ture could fall.

Figg Bridge En­gi­neers, the de­signer of the project, was aware there were cracks on the north­ern end of the bridge be­fore its col­lapse. W. Den­ney Pate, se­nior en­gi­neer for the bridge spe­cial­ist firm, left a voice mail mes­sage with the Florida Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (FDOT) stat­ing that some cracks were found in the bridge but they did not pose a safety threat.

“Ob­vi­ously the crack­ing is not good,” said Pate on the voice­mail mes­sage. “At some point that’s go­ing to get to your desk… call me back when you can.”

The FDOT did not get the mes­sage un­til the day af­ter the col­lapse (Fri­day) and im­me­di­ately re­leased the record­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, ac­cord­ing to Heavy.com.

Some spec­u­late the dis­as­ter could have been avoided if Pate had been more proac­tive and ag­gres­sive in re­port­ing the flaws. The FDOT re­ported that one of its rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with the en­gi­neer­ing firm and was “not no­ti­fied of any life­safety is­sues” at the meet­ing, re­ported Reuters.

Tal­la­has­see-based Figg Bridge Group was the de­sign spe­cial­ist of a 90-ton sec­tion of a bridge which fell apart dur­ing con­struc­tion in Vir­ginia. Four work­ers were in­jured in the in­ci­dent and the com­pany was fined $28,000 for safety vi­o­la­tions.

The Mi­ami-based con­struc­tion com­pany which part­nered on the bridge project with Figg also has a his­tory of safety vi­o­la­tions. Mu­nilla Con­struc­tion Man­age­ment, or MCM, has deep busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal ties in South Florida and said it would fully co­op­er­ate with the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Our thoughts are with the fam­i­lies and vic­tims, said the com­pany in a state­ment. “Safety has al­ways been our num­ber one pri­or­ity. We are just heart­bro­ken.”

MCM is be­ing sued by a Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion (TSA) em­ployee who was in­jured in the col­lapsed tem­po­rary bridge at a work­site at Fort Laud­erdale-Hol­ly­wood In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

The com­pany has eleven Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion (OSHA) vi­o­la­tions on record and has paid $50,000 in penal­ties to the agency. They have been cited for em­ploy­ees not be­ing cer­ti­fied to han­dle con­crete, ac­cord­ing to a CNN news re­port.

"Mak­ing con­crete is like cook­ing,” said Nakin Suk­sawang, As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor at the Lehman Cen­ter for Trans­porta­tion Re­search in a youtube video en­ti­tled The Twenty Mil­lion Dol­lar Bridge of Doom. Suk­sawang, who worked on the project, said the vari­a­tions of con­crete “makes it harder for en­gi­neers to come out with a for­mula that can pre­cisely pre­dict the be­hav­ior of it.”

Suk­sawang said six­teen sen­sors were put into each of the bridges six sec­tions by grad­u­ate stu­dents from his school which he su­per­vised. The sen­sors, which Suk­sawang com­pared to a heart pace­maker, were de­signed to mon­i­tor the shrink­age and ex­pan­sion of the con­crete and pro­vide an­a­lysts with im­me­di­ate in­for­ma­tion.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are also look­ing into whether a stress test or the tight­en­ing of ca­bles on site was the cause of the bridge’s col­lapse. Mi­ami-Dade Mayor Car­los Giménez said in a press con­fer­ence that a stress test was be­ing con­ducted just prior to the struc­ture’s fall.

Mean­while, law­suits have been filed. With each case, the process of dis­cov­ery will bring out the facts lead­ing to the bridge’s col­lapse.

The 174-foot cross­walk was de­signed to al­low Florida In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity stu­dents to sit and chat or do home­work on ta­bles. The con­struc­tion spec­i­fi­ca­tions called for the bridge to last 100 years and be able to with­stand a Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­cane.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF YOUTUBE.COM

The FIU foot­bridge was meant to save lives. In­stead, it left 6 dead.

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