Both of the construction companies involved in building the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University (FIU) that collapsed today have been previously accused of unsafe practices, including bridge failures that injured people.
According to a report by the Miami New Times, South Florida’s Munilla Construction Management partnered with Tallahassee-based Figg Bridge Group on the bridge, which was part of a $14.2 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Earlier this month, Munilla was sued for injuries sustained by a TSA employee when he fell when a “makeshift bridge” that was constructed during renovations at the airport in Fort Lauderdale collapsed underneath him:
According to the lawsuit, Munilla — which has a major contract to expand the airport — built a “makeshift bridge” through an area where airport workers must walk to reach restrooms.
Jose Perez, a TSA worker, was walking on the bridge October 20, 2016, when it “broke under [his] weight” and sent him falling to the ground.
“They built this makeshift bridge in the area where all the employees work, and it was poorly done. He fell and hurt himself really badly,” says Tesha Allison, a lawyer representing Perez. “He had multiple broken bones and damage to his spine… They did shoddy work.”
Likewise, Figg has a bridge collapse in their history. The Miami New Times article cites a 2012 Virginian-Pilot story describing how a Figg-assembled bridge “fell apart” during construction. A 90-ton concrete section dropped 40 feet onto railroad tracks below while it was being installed:
Four workers suffered minor injuries, but state regulators later said it was pure luck that no one was killed…
Figg was fined $28,000 by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, which found the company had violated several safety rules. It had failed to gain written consent from a manufacturer before modifying a girder used in construction. The company was also cited for not doing daily, weekly, and monthly inspections of the girder; not providing adequate training for using the equipment; and not having certain safety procedures in place for its maintenance and repair, according to the Virginian-Pilot.
The pedestrian bridge at FIU was built to provide safe passage for students across the busy six-lane Southwest Eighth Street, and incorporated several newly developed modular construction methods, where the bridge was constructed off-site and installed in a largely completed form.
The local ABC affiliate reported on the installation of the main bridge span — a 950-ton section — on Saturday, noting that it was the first time these “Accelerated Bridge Construction Methods” were used on a bridge this large.
The bridge also used a new type of “self-cleaning” concrete. “When exposed to sunlight, titanium dioxide in the concrete traps pollutants and turns them a bright white,” FIU said in a statement last week about the bridge.
Questions are now being raised about these new construction methods, and whether sufficient inspections and other safeguards were developed to keep pace.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Miami native and adjunct professor at FIU, sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking for the DOT investigation to address “the bridge’s design, construction, and ultimate failure.”
“It is also my understanding that this bridge was constructed using the new Accelerated Bridge Construction method, and was installed this past Saturday in only six hours,” wrote Rubio. “While I support federal dollars being used to support innovative technologies, these projects must meet the highest standards to ensure safety is paramount.”
“I commend the National Transportation Safety Board’s swift deployment of a team to investigate the bridge collapse. In its review, I hope to see the NTSB investigate and answer the following questions: What safety standards are in place to ensure speed does not compromise safety in Accelerated Bridge Construction? What materials, and from what sources, were used in bridge construction? What, if any, safety procedures were not followed in this instance?”
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[Cross-posted at The Capitolist.]