NTSB says FIU part of 'massive oversight failure' in bridge collapse

6 people killed when pedestrian bridge crashed onto street

By Michelle F. Solomon - Podcast Producer/Reporter, Ross Palombo - Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON - Federal investigators looking into the deadly bridge collapse at Florida International University confirm that a flawed design is to blame for the disaster that killed six people. Additionally, the National Transportation Safety Board determined, during a public meeting held Tuesday, that the failure of all concerned parties to recognize and take action on the threat to public safety led to the deadly pedestrian bridge collapse at FIU on March 15, 2018. There were "failures at all levels" of the collapse that killed six people and injured ten, the NTSB stated.

FIU president Mark Rosenberg was at the meeting as the NTSB revealed the university was part of that oversight failure.

"All parties had the authority to close the bridge and did not act on that authority," stated Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB.

A flawed design from the primary engineers, a peer review that didn't find the problems, and an overall inability to see the obvious cracks and signs of imminent failure was NTSB's final determination.

On March 15, 2018, 950 tons of concrete collapsed onto Southwest Eighth Street in West Miami-Dade while traffic was stopped at a red light. The bridge connected FIU to the city of Sweetwater. Five people who were stopped at the traffic light were killed, as was a worker.

On Tuesday, the NTSB  meeting began with a message to the victims' families.

"We'd like to offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who perished in this tragedy," said Sumwalt.

A video shown at the hearing displayed the date, March 13, 2018, showing cracks in corners that continued to grow over the next few days. They were visible even as crews installed the span, and they were working on that very area moments before the crash.

Making it worse, Southwest Eighth Street was never closed, and the NTSB now says it should have been.

The NTSB said neither Florida International University, MCM, FIGG Bridge Engineers, nor Bolton, Perez and Associates Consulting Engineers took the responsibility for declaring that the cracks were beyond any level of acceptability and did not meet Florida Department of Transportation standards

"All parties had implied authority to close the bridge and did not act on that authority," said NTSB senior highway accident investigator Dan Walsh at Tuesday's hearing.

All of this is mirroring what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found months ago. Its report revealed text messages sent from a subcontractor just five days before with photos and a message saying, "It cracked like hell." OSHA also discovered a telephone call from the lead engineer just hours before the collapse insisting that cracks weren't a problem.

Denney Pate of FIGG Bridge downplayed the cracks in a voicemail to state officials: "We've taken a look at it and, uh, 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."

The NTSB says, however, it was the engineer's design that was, in fact, flawed, leading to the cracks and causing the deadly collapse — flaws that Florida Department of Transportation should have found when it reviewed the plan.
 
Rosenberg had celebrated only days before the disaster the 174-foot span that was assembled off-site and moved into place like a piece of a puzzle to avoid closing traffic on Eighth Street. FIU touted it as the largest pedestrian bridge in the nation to ever use the innovative method. When the bridge collapsed, the tall tower that was designed to hold the cables attached to the platform had not been installed.

"Our entire existence is to get it right, not to point fingers, not to lay blame not to assign fault, not to help the lawyers build their cases, but our purpose is to find out what happened, so we can keep it from happening again," said Sumwalt.
 

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