Engineer of Florida bridge reported cracks days before collapse

Workers removing debris from a collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, on March 16, 2018.
Workers removing debris from a collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, on March 16, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI (NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST) - An engineer reported cracks on a newly installed pedestrian bridge two days before it collapsed on a busy roadway, killing at least six people, state officials said on Friday (March 16).

The report, by the lead engineer with the company in charge of the bridge's design, was made in a voicemail message for a Florida Department of Transportation employee. That employee was out of the office, however, and did not receive it until Friday, a day after the collapse.

The cracking was on the north end of the span, according to the message, but the company did not consider it a safety concern, according to a transcript released by the transportation department.

The message was left on a land line. “Hey Tom, this is Denney Pate with FIGG bridge engineers. Calling to, uh, share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend,” the engineer said, according to a transcript of the call released by the Florida Department of Transportation.

“Um, so, uh, we’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.”

A spokesman for Pate's company, Figg Bridge Group, did not immediately comment on the transcript.

"The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design-build team," the transportation department said, referring to Florida International University, the owner of the bridge project.

"At no point during any of the communications above did Figg or any member of the FIU design-build team ever communicate a life-safety issue."

The 950-tonne bridge plummeted onto traffic on one of the busiest roads in South Florida on Thursday. With at least eight vehicles still buried on Friday morning, the death toll could rise, said Juan Perez, the Miami-Dade Police Department director.

 
 

"We know that there's people missing, the family members know that there's people missing, and what we can tell them is that we can assume that they're in there," Perez said at a news conference.

After searching the site with sniffer dogs, police determined late on Thursday that no one would be pulled out alive, Perez told reporters on Friday.

The victims have not been publicly identified, but at least one was a student at Florida International University (FIU), whose campus borders the roadway, officials told the news conference. The student was female, university President Mark Rosenberg told Miami's 7News.

At least 10 people were taken to hospitals; two were in critical condition, officials and local news media reported.

Witnesses told local media the vehicles had stopped at a traffic light when the bridge collapsed on top of them around 1.30pm ET.

Uncertainty over the stability of remaining sections of the bridge hampered rescue efforts, officials said.

 It was too early to say whether criminal charges might be brought against anyone, Perez said.