‘It cracked like hell.’ Engineer ignored warning signs hours before deadly FIU footbridge collapse, report says

CNN  — 

Hours before a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University last year, engineers said cracks in the structure didn’t pose a safety concern, according to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration report.

The March 2018 collapse – which killed six people – could have been prevented, OSHA said in the 115-page report released this month.

Growing cracks in the structure warranted an immediate closure of SW 8th Street, the street onto which the bridge collapsed, the report said. But the bridge’s designers, FIGG Bridge Engineers, after inspecting it that day, said the cracks did not pose any safety concerns, according to the report.

02:06 - Source: CNN
She drove under bridge moments before collapse

Urgent, but dismissed, concerns

FIGG Bridge Engineers knew that “numerous wide and deep structural cracks” had developed and lengthened daily, but dismissed them, the report says. The document contains multiple texts and emails from crew members concerned about the growing cracks.

One crew member sent his supervisor a text message with a picture of a construction joint with cracks running through it in multiple places.

“It cracked like hell,” the crew member wrote in the message.

A senior project manager also expressed concern over the cracks in an email with photo attachments.

Despite what OSHA said in the report was “a sense of urgency” from the workers, FIGG did not treat the matter as urgent.

FIGG Bridge Engineers said in a statement to CNN that they reviewed the report and disagreed with OSHA’s conclusions.

“The OSHA FIU Pedestrian Bridge report is factually inaccurate and incomplete, and includes errors and flawed analyses. It does not include an evaluation of many important factors pertinent to the construction process leading up to the accident,” the statement reads. “Additionally, it has not been reviewed by any other entities involved in the accident investigation.”

“FIGG disagrees with the conclusions in the OSHA report,” FIGG said, adding that that it could not elaborate further because the incident is being reviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The report also said that the bridge’s contractor, Munilla Construction Management, failed to address safety concerns that morning.

Munilla Construction Management told CNN that it is reviewing OSHA’s report.

“Our company fully cooperated with OSHA’s investigation from Day 1, and we appreciate their efforts. If MCM determines that any of the information contained in the report should be supplemented, we will bring it to OSHA’s attention immediately,” the company said in an emailed statement.

When reached by CNN on Tuesday, a Florida International University spokeswoman, Madeline Baró, said the university wasn’t in a position to comment on the report, citing an ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Built for safety

Beyond the response to the cracks before the collapse, the report said there were missteps throughout the construction process, citing a “deficient” design and inadequate oversight by engineering consultants that violated requirements by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The university, located in Miami, Florida, commissioned the $14.2 million bridge to connect the school’s campus to the Sweetwater neighborhood, where thousands of students live.

The footbridge had been built to avoid tragedy, after an 18-year-old student at FIU was killed after being hit by a vehicle while crossing a nearby street.

It was intended to be strong enough to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and last 100 years, the university said in a fact sheet.

It was also designed using Accelerated Bridge Construction which makes the construction quicker and cheaper and also keeps the street from being blocked for long periods.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement criticizing OSHA’s report. That statement was released solely by FIGG Bridge Engineers.

CNN’s Eric Levenson and Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report.