Florida International University’s bridge design team met hours before the school’s deadly bridge collapse to discuss a crack in the structure, but an engineer present concluded that there were no safety hazards, the university revealed on Saturday.
At 9 a.m. on Thursday, FIU’s bridge design team, including employees from the university, Munilla Construction Company and FIGG Bridge Engineers, had a two-hour meeting in a trailer at the construction site about cracking in the structure.
Less than five hours later, the bridge collapsed over Southwest Eighth Street. in Miami, killing at least six people and hospitalizing at least nine others.
During the meeting, an engineer for FIGG, the firm which designed the bridge, gave a presentation on the crack, according to the university.
“The FIGG engineer of record delivered a technical presentation regarding the crack and concluded that there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” the university said.
Representatives for the Florida Department of Transportation were also at the meeting.
News of the Thursday morning meeting comes one day after FDOT revealed that FIGG engineer Denney Pate called the transportation department to alert its officials of cracking on the bridge on Tuesday, two days before the collapse.
Pate left a voicemail for the state employee saying that he observed “some cracking” that would need repairs, but he added that it didn’t appear to pose any urgent safety issues.
The employee didn’t hear the message until Friday because he was on an assignment out of the office, according to the transportation department.
An evaluation of the bridge “based on the best available information at that time” and conducted before the collapse “indicated that there were no safety issues,” Cheryl Stopnick, a spokeswoman for FIGG Bridge, told HuffPost on Friday.
Stopnick declined to answer questions about what type of cracks Pate observed and whether the cracks contributed to the collapse.
Responding to questions about the bridge’s crack, Robert Accetta of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a Friday night press conference that “a crack in the bridge does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe.”
Accetta is an investigator working with the board to find out what caused the collapse and how to prevent it from happening in the future.
Florida International University spearheaded the 950-ton bridge project to provide its students with safe passage to campus over a multi-lane road.
The university hired FIGG Bridge Engineers to design the bridge and Munilla Construction to build it. The design team contracted Barnhart Crane and Rigging to move the bridge into place last weekend.
Workers created the bridge using the accelerated bridge construction method, an expedited technique that involves a majority of the structure being built off-site before being moved into place. Some experts say this method reduces traffic closures and on-site construction time while improving safety conditions for the public.
On Friday, FDOT appeared to place some blame on FIU design team, saying it was their responsibility to identify and address “life-safety issues” related to the bridge and communicate them to the state.
After the deadly accident, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez confirmed that construction workers were conducting a stress test on the bridge some time before it collapsed on Thursday. FDOT said in their Friday statement that it was unaware that FIU’s bridge team had planned to do any tests on the bridge after it was erected last weekend.
The state’s department of transportation also noted that FIU’s team never made a request to close the entire road for work or testing.
“FIGG and the FIU design build team never alerted FDOT of any life-safety issue regarding the FIU pedestrian bridge prior to collapse,” the department said.
The National Transportation Safety Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Miami-Dade Police Department’s homicide bureau and Munilla Construction Management are all leading separate investigations into the deadly accident.
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