Two days before a new pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, killing at least six people, one of the project engineers called a Florida transportation official to report cracks in the structure.
The official didn’t hear that call until after the bridge collapsed.
The Florida Department of Transportation released on Friday a transcript of a Tuesday voice-mail message from an engineer with FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc., the Tallahassee, Fla., company that designed the bridge for Florida International University over an eight-lane road.
“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 engineer said, according to a transcript of the call. “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.”
The transportation agency said the state employee whom the engineer tried to reach was on assignment and didn’t hear the message until he returned to the office Friday, a day after the bridge collapsed.
“The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design build team,” Florida Department of Transportation said in a statement, adding that at no point was the department alerted to any life-safety issues.
FIGG said in a statement that “the evaluation was based on the best available information at that time and indicated that there were no safety issues.”
The $14.2 million bridge suddenly collapsed Thursday afternoon crushing eight cars underneath more than 900 tons of concrete. Its main 174-foot span had been lifted into place on March 10 in a matter of hours, after being built alongside the thoroughfare over the course of months.
Florida’s Transportation Department said one of its consultants met with members of the bridge engineering team Thursday midday at which point no concerns were raised about life-safety issues, the need for additional road closures or requests for any other assistance.
Lawmakers have provided differing accounts of what was happening on the bridge when it collapsed. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) wrote on Twitter that the engineering firm building the bridge at Florida International University ordered on Thursday that the cables be tightened. “They were being tightened when it collapsed,” he wrote late Thursday.
Other elected officials, including the Miami-Dade County mayor, said they had been informed that a stress test was being conducted at the time of the collapse. University officials didn’t respond to a request to comment.
It wasn’t clear why officials allowed the road underneath the bridge to remain open during the time of the work, or why this work wasn’t scheduled for night hours, when there is little traffic.
“If it’s a critical stage in the construction, why would you keep traffic going under the bridge during that particular step?” said Ted Krauthammer, a University of Florida civil engineering professor who said he didn’t have direct knowledge of the incident.
The state Transportation Department said it never received a request to close the entire road. The department said it also wasn’t made aware by the FIU design build team of any scheduled “stress testing” of the bridge following installation.
The bridge was designed by FIGG and constructed by a Miami firm, Munilla Construction Management, or MCM.
Two federal agencies, local police and state attorneys are investigating the collapse.
A team from the National Transportation Safety Board should be on the scene for about a week, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. Mr. Sumwalt cited the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minnesota, which killed 13 people, as an example of the board’s expertise in catastrophic bridge collapses.
Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said his priority was recovering the bodies in the eight cars trapped beneath the rubble, saying he expected more bodies to be found.
Among the victims was Navaro Brown, 37 years old, who worked for Maryland-based Structural Technologies, said Mike Biesiada, a spokesman for the company. The firm supplies structural reinforcements and was at the bridge providing installation support for post-tension hardware, he said. Two other company workers were injured, he said.
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A video posted to Florida International University’s Twitter page on March 10, 2018, shows a recently-constructed pedestrian bridge before it collapsed.
Mr. Biesiada said he couldn’t provide details on what the three were doing at the time the bridge came down, citing the continuing investigation.
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Appeared in the March 17, 2018, print edition as ‘Work Under Way When Bridge Fell.’