It has been less than a year since the Miami bridge collapse killed six people, but the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its second investigative update report regarding the tragedy. Although the agency said it has not yet determined the cause of the collapse, it did note design flaws in the structure, which may have contributed to the pedestrian bridge failure. Furthermore, the report notes that cracking observed in the bridge before the structure caved in, is consistent with the design flaws.
The bridge collapsed shortly after a portion of the structure was put in place, a devastating reminder of the tragic consequences of structures not being properly designed or built.
Six Dead, Nine Injured in Miami Bridge Collapse
On March 15, 2018, at around 2:00 p.m. the Florida International University pedestrian bridge, of which a significant portion had recently been put into place, collapsed onto SW 8th Street. Six people died in the collapse—including five in the vehicles below the bridge and one bridge worker—and nine people were injured. The bridge was built to connect Florida International University to the city of Sweetwater with a planned opening of 2019.
One witness said the noise of the bridge falling sounded “like the world was ending.”
Included in the dead are:
- Alexa Duran (18)
- Alberto Arias (53)
- Oswald Gonzalez (57)
- Rolando Fraga Hernandez (60)
- Navarro Brown (37)
- Brandon Brownfield (39)
Munilla Construction Management built the bridge span, which weighed 950 tons and spanned 174 feet. FIGG Bridge Engineers designed the bridge’s walkway. The companies built the bridge using an accelerated bridge construction method, supposedly a more efficient and safer way to build the bridge.
Only days before the Miami bridge failed, a FIGG engineer left a voicemail with the Florida Department of Transportation stating that cracking was seen at one end of the bridge span. That message, however, was not heard until a day after the bridge failed. Despite noting the crack, the engineer said the crack did not seem to pose a safety threat, but it would have to be repaired.
NTSB Issues Miami Bridge Collapse Report
On August 9, 2018, the NTSB issued its first investigative update, with a second update released in November.
The second update states that investigators found the bridge’s northernmost nodal region had design errors that resulted in an overestimation of the capacity of that section and an underestimation of the demand on the same section. In other words, the bridge was not as strong as designers thought it was and was also carrying a heavier load than expected. Photographs of cracks in the bridge showed the cracks expanded after the bridge was moved into place over the highway.
“Additionally, the [Federal Highway Administration] evaluation determined that the cracking observed in the node prior to the collapse is consistent with the identified errors,” the NTSB wrote in its Miami bridge collapse report.
Despite finding the design flaws, the NTSB has not yet determined the cause of the bridge collapse. Cooperating with the NTSB on the investigation is the Federal Highway Administration, which conducted a design review, and the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, which conducted testing.
Among questions that must still be answered is why traffic was allowed to continue under the bridge despite the cracks and despite ongoing construction. The NTSB is also exploring the actions taken after the cracking was reported.
Contractors Cited for Safety Violations in Florida Bridge Failure
In September, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited five contractors—including FIGG Bridge Engineers—for failing to take the appropriate actions to protect employees in the case of a bridge collapse. The contractors cited, which also include Munilla Construction Management LLC, Structural Technologies LLC, The Structural Group of South Florida Inc., and Network Engineering Services—were fined for seven violations at a total of more than $86,000.
“Collectively, these employers failed to take appropriate action and provide the necessary protections to their employees while they were working on the bridge on the day it collapsed,” OSHA regional administrator Kurt A. Petermeyer said in a statement. OSHA described the violations as being “serious.”
Among the violations were exposing workers to fall hazards, using improperly installed lifelines, and failing to evacuate workers from the area despite evidence that the bridge could collapse. A worker, who was standing on the span of the bridge that collapsed, died, while five others suffered serious injuries including one who sustained a brain injury. The workers were involved in tightening rods to strengthen the structure.