Last August, an 18-year-old Florida International University (FIU) student died after she was struck by a vehicle while crossing a busy roadway near the school. To avoid another tragedy, the University commissioned a $14.2 million bridge to connect the campus to nearby student housing.
According to reports, the 950-ton bridge was built using Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) technology, a streamlined innovative process that is quicker and more cost effective. Much of the construction is done in advance and off-site in order to reduce the disruption of traffic flow. The bridge was designed to withstand Category 5 hurricane-force winds and to last 100 years.
On March 10, the span was lifted in place over the street. Two days later, the bridge collapsed, killing six people; multiple others were injured and several vehicles were crushed under the rubble. The bridge was still under construction at the time and not open for pedestrian traffic because a tower and suspension pipes to support the walkway were not built yet.
As an investigation got under way, some disturbing details emerged. Shortly after the span was put in place over the busy 8-lane roadway, cracks were discovered on its north end. Although they would need to be repaired, the design company left a voice message for the Florida Department of Transportation that there were no issues from a safety perspective. Then came word that work crews had been tightening cables to the bridge when the span collapsed. It is also unclear what was supporting the walkway.
Several questions will be considered as federal investigators prepare to find out what went wrong and whether a design flaw or human error was to blame.
- Was it a risky move to use the ABC technology over a heavily traveled highway?
- What protocols were in place to ensure the bridge was safe after installation?
- Where the cracks significant?
- If the cables that suspended the walkway were loose, and needed to be tightened, why wasn’t a permit pulled to close the road first?
- If crews were conducting stress tests (typically consisting of using calibrated weights to measure the span’s response), why wasn’t the road closed?
- Why weren’t the tower and suspension pipes put in place before the road underneath was opened to traffic?
- Was the collapse the result of a human error (such as turning a bolt or screw the wrong way when adjusting the tension on the cables)?
- Was the bridge failure the result of multiple problems?
The bridge collapse is just the latest in a string of fatal infrastructure failures during a time when our crumbling infrastructure was to be a top priority for the White House. In his infrastructure bill, President Trump asked Congress to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new investment over the next 10 years, speed up projects, address unmet rural infrastructure needs, empower State and local authorities, and train the American workforce of the future. The FIU bridge was a year ahead of schedule. It is possible that the bridge collapsed due to inefficiencies stemming from an accelerated project? We should never sacrifice quality or safety for speed. We must carefully assess how to improve our transportation networks or we will keep putting public safety at risk.
Mark M. Bello is an attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. He is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation, a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. The series consists of "Betrayal of Faith", "Betrayal of Justice", and "Betrayal in Blue", with a fourth book due out in 2019. You can learn more about these topical political, legal thrillers at markmbello.com. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.