MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The National Transportation Safety Board held a meeting on Tuesday to outline several factors that led to the collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge last year.
Topics discussed included the bridge’s design, construction plan errors, mechanisms of failure, a shortcoming in oversight and remedial actions to control cracking, and the “lack of redundancy guidelines in specifications for pedestrian truss bridges.”
In their report, federal investigators determined the bridge showed significant design errors and the state government should have conducted greater oversight because of the project’s complexity.
The NTSB concluded the design firm FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. underestimated the load of the bridge and overestimated its strength in a critical section that splintered, dropping a 174-foot-long span onto eight cars. Six people were killed in the collapse.
In response to the NTSB’s findings, FIGG Engineers issued a statement which partially read:
“At the NTSB meeting today, it was evident that the investigation into the FIU pedestrian bridge construction accident presented challenges for the agency to accurately understand all of the technical and factual components. The accident was the result of a complex series of events and failings by parties at multiple stages of the project.”
An analysis conducted by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE), the country’s preeminent forensic structural engineering firm, proved that if the construction joint at member 11 had been built as required by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Standard Construction Specifications, the construction accident would not have occurred.
NTSB’s chairman Robert Sumwalt said the cracking observed days before the collapse should have prompted contractors and the Florida International University to close the road but did not. Investigative engineers said the cracks were 40 times larger than what is commonly accepted.
FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg issued a statement after the release of the findings which read:
“Today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a public board meeting on the probable cause of the March 15, 2018 pedestrian bridge collapse and made safety recommendations arising from its investigation.
The NTSB concluded that the probable cause of the collapse was the design. Compounding this tragedy was the fact that the design errors were not caught by an independent peer review. The NTSB was critical of all parties, including FIU, for not closing the road given the magnitude of the cracks on the bridge.
It is a difficult day for the families who lost loved ones in the bridge accident and those who were injured. Our university community mourns for all who perished or were hurt in this senseless tragedy. This must never happen again.
We are grateful to all those who have helped in the recovery and healing since that tragic day – thank you for all that you have done.
We also appreciate the NTSB’s work over the past 19 months to determine what caused the bridge to fail and how something like this can be prevented in the future.
FIU is committed to transparency and accountability. As a party to the investigation, we were limited in what information we could share, and we always observed the NTSB’s rules with regard to commenting publicly on matters associated with the bridge, as promised. FIU cooperated fully and promptly throughout the investigation and
provided all information requested by the NTSB during the course of the investigation.
FIU intended for the pedestrian bridge to connect our community with the City of Sweetwater and provide safe passage for students and residents. We awarded a Design-Build contract through a competitive, public process following federal and state laws and regulations. As is typical with these projects, we relied on qualified professionals who were retained to design, build and inspect the bridge to notify us of any safety concerns.
The health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and local community are our top priorities. We are heartbroken that the road was not closed and are committed to doing our part to help prevent something similar from happening again.
Looking to the future, the need for a safe link between our campus and the City of Sweetwater is increasing every day. The number of students living on the other side of 8th Street is expected to double, and a pedestrian bridge is needed for the more than 3,000 students who must cross 8th Street safely several times a day.
To address this, FIU does intend to build a new bridge where the victims will be memorialized as part of the UniversityCity Prosperity Project. We will keep the community updated on these plans.
We have shown the strength of our community and the entire FIU family, and I continue to be in awe at our ability to support one another through difficult times.”
The board also concluded the Florida Department of Transportation should have conducted greater oversight of the project.
FIU plans to build another pedestrian bridge in the future.
CBS4’s Hank Tester spoke to several FIU students who were in agreement that a new pedestrian bridge is desperately needed.
“Yeah, it would help me get across better. This is like crossing the interstate, so yeah,” said FIU student George Bush.
A total of 886 student housing units are set to go in 2020, with another similar project in the works.
“I think we all agree it would be more convenient for everybody. We can get right on campus,” said Brooke Bonincontri.
But not all students are buying the need for bridge.
“Since the bridge fell I have had no problem walking across this street right here. I do not think we need a bridge,” said Luca Defrino.
The Sweetwater mayor’s office released a statement in regards to a potential new bridge:
“Florida International University is the sole recipient for funding related to the pedestrian bridge and will be the party to determine future efforts pertaining to a bridge. Our administration will be receptive to future discussions related to a pedestrian bridge.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)