Hours before a new pedestrian bridge collapsed Thursday in Miami, killing at least six people, one of the project engineers briefed representatives of the builder, Florida International University and the state Department of Transportation about a crack in the structure, according to the university.
The engineer “concluded that there were no safety concerns and the crack didn’t compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” the university said in a statement early Saturday morning. FIU said it is cooperating with officials to understand why the bridge failed just five days after the main span was lowered in place over an eight-lane road.
Work crews on Saturday extracted the first two crushed vehicles from the tons of rubble, police said. The vehicles will be taken to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Department. Video from the scene showed a crane hoisting what appeared to be a flattened pickup truck so a flatbed could haul it away.
Thursday’s two-hour meeting, which was convened to discuss the crack, came two days after the project’s lead engineer called a Florida transportation official to report cracking. The engineer left a voice-mail message, but the state official didn’t hear it until Friday when he returned to the office from an assignment, the transportation agency said.
The Florida Department of Transportation released a transcript of the message from the engineer with FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc., the Tallahassee, Fla., company that designed the bridge for FIU.
“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,” said W. Denney Pate, FIGG’s lead project engineer, according to the transcript. “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.”
Mr. Pate didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.
“The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design build team,” the 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, at which point no concerns were raised about life-safety issues, the need for additional road closures or requests for any other assistance.
The bridge was expected to be opened for foot traffic next year.
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 FIU 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.