Engineers knew about crack in pedestrian bridge before collapse

- A voicemail left on the answering machine of a Florida Department of Transportation employee seems to show there was no indication there was a fatal flaw in the newly-erected bridge.

The voicemail, however, leaves more unanswered questions about who, if anyone, should be held responsible.

On Wednesday, March 13, the day before the newly-erected pedestrian bridge at FIU collapsed, killing 6 people and injuring almost a dozen more, FDOT says the project’s lead engineer left a voicemail indicating there was a crack in the bridge.

FDOT provided audio and a transcript of a voicemail left by W. Denney Pate, lead engineer at FIGG, for an FDOT employee who was out of the office until Friday, March 16. That’s when the employee heard the voicemail.

“Hey Tom, this is Denney Pate with FIGG bridge engineers, calling to, uh, share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend,” the caller, who FDOT says is Pate, says.

“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,” he continued.

STORY: Company behind collapsed pedestrian bridge also designed Sunshine Skyway, Selmon bridges

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is involved in the investigation of the crash, a crack is not indicative of a fatal flaw with a bridge.

In addition to questions about visible flaws in the bridge, FDOT said it was unaware of a so-called stress test being conducted on the bridge.

Authorities said cables supporting the bridge were being tightened following the stress test when the 950-ton concrete span collapsed over traffic.

FDOT says it would have issued a “permit for partial or full road closure if deemed necessary and requested by the FIU design-build team or FIU contracted construction inspector for structural testing.”

However, FDOT says no such request was made.

“The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design-build team. At no point during any of the communications above did FIGG or any member of the FIU design-build team ever communicate a life-safety issue,” FDOT said in a statement Friday.

FIGG Engineering released the following statement Friday night:

"FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc., continues to work diligently with the construction team to help determine the cause of the collapse of the pedestrian bridge that was under construction at Florida International University. We are heartbroken by the loss of life and injuries and are carefully examining the steps that our team has taken in the interest of our overarching concern for public safety. The evaluation was based on the best available information at that time and indicated that there were no safety issues. We will pursue answers to find out what factors led to this tragic situation, but it is important that the agencies responsible for investigating this devastating situation are given the appropriate time in order to accurately identify what factors led to the accident during construction. We are committed to working with all appropriate authorities throughout this process."

Experts from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration joined police in taking over command of the scene Friday from first responders, who had spent hours racing to find survivors in the rubble of the 175-foot span using high-tech listening devices, trained sniffing dogs and search cameras.

When finished, the bridge would have been supported from above, with a tall, off-center tower and cables attached to the walkway. That tower had not yet been installed, and it was unclear what builders were using as temporary supports.

Andy Herman, a bridge engineer and former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, told The Associated Press that its so-called "accelerated bridge construction" has been used for years without problems.

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