Professionalism/FIU Pedestrian Bridge Collapse

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Background[edit | edit source]

The new pedestrian bridge crossing over SW 8th St. at the SW 109th Ave. intersection broke ground in 2016. The money for the project came from a federal grant to fund the University City Prosperity Project. The goal of the project was to make crossing the busy SW 8th St. safer for pedestrians. Hundreds of Florida International University (FIU) students cross SW 8th St. to travel between the FIU campus and Sweetwater, Florida on a daily basis.[1] On August 20, 2017 a student was killed while crossing SW 9th St. at SW 109th Ave. when they were hit by a car.[2] The bridge project was being constructed through the Local Agency Program (LAP), meaning the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) did not directly oversee the project.[3] The bridge was also being constructed using a technique called Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC), which FIU researches extensively.[4] ABC involves assembling the bridge off site and subsequently moving the bridge into place. This method is meant to reduce traffic impacts and lane closures while improving worker safety.[5]

Relevant Participants[edit | edit source]

The general contractor for the bridge was Munilla Construction Management (MCM). FIU retained Bolton Perez and Associates (BPA) to the Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) firm for the project.[3] FIGG Bridge Engineers (FIGG) designed the bridge and were the Engineer of Record (EOR) for the project, responsible for designing a safe and constructable bridge. The Louis Berger Group were hired by FIGG to be an independent peer reviewer of FIGG's design work.[3] Structural Technologies/VSL was the subcontractor responsible for post-tensioning on the bridge.

Design[edit | edit source]

FIGG designed the pedestrian bridge to be a 320-foot-long pre-stressed concrete, truss bridge. The truss span was designed to be entirely self-supporting while the central piers and cables provided stiffness against vibration. Many of the diagonal members were designed to be constructed with post-tensioning (PT) bars to keep them in compression during any stage of construction. The fatal design error of this bridge was incorrect load and capacity calculations which led to shear failure at a critical node. Once the shear failure disconnected the joint between members 11 and 12 of the truss and the deck of the bridge, failure was imminent.

Timeline[3][edit | edit source]

February 28, 2018[edit | edit source]

Six photographs of cracks taken by BPA are forwarded to MCM, who subsequently forward the photos to FIGG.

March 7, 2018[edit | edit source]

FIGG responds to photos sent by MCM. FIGG did not find any structural concern with any of the cracks photographed by BPA.

March 10, 2018[edit | edit source]

The Pedestrian Bridge is moved into place on the roadway. VSL begins to destress the post-tension (PT) bars, and more cracks begin to appear. Kevin Hanson, a supervisor for VSL, regarded as very knowledgeable about PT systems, noticed the cracking and sent an image to his supervisor stating "it cracked like hell".

March 12, 2018[edit | edit source]

Rodrigo Isaza, the project manager for MCM, along with other MCM employees photographed the new cracking. Rodrigo Isaza stated in an email to Dwight Dempsey, a PE at FIGG: "some of these cracks are rather large and/or of concern".

March 13, 2018[edit | edit source]

FIGG confirmed to both MCM and FDOT that this new cracking was not a safety issue, and offered a temporary solution. MCM also tells FIGG they will be monitoring the cracks. FIGG then asked to be notified if the cracks increased in size.

March 14, 2018[edit | edit source]

MCM sends more photos of cracks to FIGG. FIGG analyzed the cracks further.

March 15, 2018[edit | edit source]

Two FIGG engineers go on the bridge to examine the cracks, along with employees from MCM and BPA. A morning meeting was then held, and FIGG again stated that the cracks presented no safety concern, despite not understanding how the cracks formed. BPA asked FIGG during the meeting if the analysis was peer reviewed. FIGG agreed that they should be peer reviewed, but they had not been at the time of the meeting. BPA also confirmed that the cracks had been growing in size.

Later that day, the bridge completely failed and collapsed killing 6 people and injuring almost a dozen others.[6]

Professional Ethics[edit | edit source]

Every company involved with the creation of the FIU Pedestrian Bridge was in some way responsible for the casualties when the bridge collapsed. Specifically, there are breaches of professional ethics in the specific actions taken by involved engineers, while others are institutional failures from oversight and regulatory agencies.

Project Failures[edit | edit source]

The following are some of the specific failures in implementation and oversight that allowed a series of errors to occur ultimately leading to the bridge collapse:

  • FIGG and BPA failed to take the cracks seriously as a structural issue[7]
  • Traffic wasn't diverted when problems were discovered
  • Louis Berger was erroneously was a unqualified independent reviewer[8]
  • Federal Highway Administration classified the project as high risk, yet took no action[9]
  • The project was classified as a Local Agency Project (LAP), meaning FIU was managing the project with minimal oversight from FDOT
  • Louis Berger lowered budget amount, thereby cutting their ability to check more in depth details of the bridge, including nodes like the node between members 11 and 12 where the main bridge failure occurred. [10]

Recommendations[11][edit | edit source]

In their analysis, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) gave specific recommendations for the Federal Highway Administration, FDOT, American Association of State Highway and Transportation, and FIGG. Amount these recommendations are:

  • Changing oversight to accommodate uncommon or unique bridge designs to ensure these bridges have correct estimates
  • Adding review to nodal stress calculations in FDOT's Plans Preparation Manual
  • Ensure peer-review engineers are prequalified before they're able to approve plans
  • Change Local Agency Program policy to more closely monitor uncommon designs

The Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) also published a report detailing more broad changes in the industry that contributed to the failure. SCOSS proposes the following changes to the design process:

  • Implementing contingency planning
  • Prevent non-engineers from making decisions without the consultation of engineers
  • Better train to detect early warnings of failure
  • Better vet the competency of participants
  • Changing workplace cultures that compromise safety and quality

Putting It All Together[edit | edit source]

There were many oversights that happened in this case starting with the designed load capacity oversight by FIGG. The peer-reviewer Louis Berger failed to look over the entirety of the plans due to their unqualified nature and their lowering of budget which led them to be unable to check thoroughly. These oversights manifested themselves into deficiencies within the bridge itself which caused cracking to occur. Once cracks were discovered on the bridge there were many oversights that made the potential of harm to humans greater. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Code of Ethics lists protecting the health and safety of the public as the first ethical responsibility of civil engineers. [12] That is, every single one of these workers should have had safety for everyone first. They lacked the professional knowledge and judgment to see how dangerous these cracks were and shut down SW 8th St. to keep the public away from an imminent crash.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Company Lawsuits[edit | edit source]

Most settlements filed by the victims' families were settled in 2019, the total amount against the engineering firms amounted to over 100 million dollars. The last settlement was against Louis Berger and settled in January, 2022. [13]

Company Blame[edit | edit source]

All involved parties, including FIGG, don't take full responsibility. Their own inquiry into the collapse found that it was not their design that was at fault for the collapse, but rather it was a failure of the MCM construction crews to follow procedures that led to the failure.[14] FIGG lost two high profile jobs after the collapse, including an $803 million bridge replacement job on US 181. [15] Even after evidence against them and deflection of blame, FIGG remains a well-respected name in the bridge design industry. After agreeing to a $9.5 million settlement with FIU, MCM placed Louis Berger's name on a lawsuit, effectively blaming the collapse on the independent consultant.[16] Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB said he had never "seen [a project] where there’s more finger-pointing between the parties." [17] Although, some companies, including MCM and BPA, have officially changed their name since the collapse.

Rebuilding[edit | edit source]

FIU still plans to build a pedestrian bridge in the planned location, although now the bridge will use more traditional building methods and have a memorial for the victims of the original bridge's collapse. FDOT will manage the construction of the bridge instead of FIU. The highway under the bridge will be closed while the bridge is under construction. [18]

Teachings about Professional Ethics[edit | edit source]

Even before the bridge crashed there was a lack of professionalism from each company involved which was eventually revealed by the pointing of fingers. The inability to accept responsibility showcased by this deflection of blame was inherent when cracks were identified. It seemed that each company didn't want to see the cracks as dangerous because they didn't want to possibly take blame for them occurring. Engineers should learn from this case that even if a problem didn't come about because of you, it should still be reported with urgency.

Similar Projects[edit | edit source]

In 2010, a decking failure in Medford, MA prompted a project to replace a series of 14 dilapidated bridges along a corridor of I-93 outside Boston, MA using the same ABC methods. All the bridges were replaced in the summer of 2011 without any serious injuries. The 93 Fast 14 project was a huge success "without delays or costly overruns," according to MassDOT. [19]

Recommendations for Future Work[edit | edit source]

The design is complicated and unique and it may be useful to understand why FIU decided to undertake such an ambitious bridge design. The aftermath section can also be expanded on, including but not limited to a detailed review of the filed lawsuits and how the companies deflected and explained away blame.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Rodriguez, Marybel (August 22, 2017). "Pedestrian Bridge In The Works For FIU Students To Cross Busy 8th Street". CBS Miami. Archived from the original on March 16, 2018. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  2. Nelson, Gary (August 20, 2017). "College Student Killed, Struck By Car Near FIU". CBS Miami. Archived from the original on September 30, 2017. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  3. a b c d "Investigation of March 15, 2018 Pedestrian Bridge Collapse at Florida International University, Miami, FL" (PDF). OSHA. July 2019. Retrieved April 24, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. "Accelerated Bridge Construction". University Transportation Center. Retrieved April 23, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. "Construction". U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. April 13, 2021. Retrieved April 24, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. Chappell, Bill; Held, Amy; Neuman, Scott (March 15, 2018). "Pedestrian Bridge Collapse Death Toll Rises To 6 In Miami-Dade County". NPR. Retrieved April 26, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. OSHA (July, 2019). "Investigation of March 15, 2018 Pedestrian Bridge Collapse at Florida International University, Miami, FL" (PDF). (PDF). Retrieved April 30, 2023. {{cite web}}: Check |archive-url= value (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. NTSB (October 22, 2019). "Pedestrian Bridge Collapse Over SW 8th Street Miami, Florida March 15, 2018" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. Nbc 6; Pipitone, Tony; Press • •, The Associated. "5 Years Later, Bridge Collapse Near Florida International University Remembered". NBC 6 South Florida. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  10. "How the FIU tragedy could change bridge construction". Construction Dive. Retrieved 2023-05-06.
  11. Horgan, Rob (2021-03-15). "FIU bridge collapse | Lessons learnt three years since Florida tragedy". New Civil Engineer. Retrieved 2023-04-26.
  12. "Code of Ethics". Retrieved 2023-05-06.
  13. Washburn, Maya (2022-01-31). "Final Settlement Marks the End of FIU Bridge Collapse Litigation". PantherNOW. Retrieved 2023-04-26.
  14. "The fallout of the FIU bridge collapse, almost 2 years later". Construction Dive. Retrieved 2023-05-06.
  15. "Firm blamed for deadly FIU pedestrian bridge collapse suspended from federal contracts". Equipment World. 2020-08-17. Retrieved 2023-05-06.
  16. Horgan, Rob (2020-09-28). "WSP faces FIU bridge collapse lawsuit despite not being involved in project". New Civil Engineer. Retrieved 2023-05-06.
  17. Mazzei, Patricia (2019-10-22). "Flawed Design, Lax Oversight Led to ‘Astounding’ Miami Bridge Collapse" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  18. Gregg, Elise (2022-06-16). "FIU's New Pedestrian Bridge Set to Start Construction in 2024". PantherNOW. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  19. "The Fast 14 Project | FHWA". Retrieved 2023-04-25.