U.S. NEWS
03/17/2018 12:41 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2018

Engineer's Voicemail Warned State Of Bridge Cracks 2 Days Before Collapse

The state employee didn't hear the voicemail until one day after the deadly accident.

An engineer who helped design the Miami pedestrian bridge that collapsed on Thursday called the Florida Department of Transportation two days earlier to report cracks he saw on the bridge, but no one answered the phone, FDOT revealed in a statement Friday.

The lead engineer for the company that designed the bridge, FIGG Bridge Engineers, left a voicemail for the Florida Department of Transportation employee he was trying to reach. 

FDOT on Friday released a transcript and recording of that message from FIGG engineer Denney Pate. Officials say it was left Tuesday, two days before the newly erected bridge for Florida International University students collapsed over a multi-lane road, killing at least six people.

In his message, Pate described “some cracking” his team observed on the structure but suggested it wasn’t of urgent concern. Pate explained, “From a safety perspective, we don’t see that there’s any issue.”

However, Pate did note that the cracks would need “some repairs or whatever” and said he wanted to talk to the employee about the repairs.

“Obviously the cracking is not good, and something’s going to have to be, you know, done to repair that,” he said.

The intended recipient of Pate’s message did not hear the voicemail until Friday ― one day after the bridge collapsed ― because the state employee was “out of the office on assignment,” FDOT said in a news release.

Cheryl Stopnick, a spokeswoman for FIGG Bridge, told HuffPost in a statement that an evaluation of the bridge “based on the best available information at that time” and conducted before the collapse “indicated that there were no safety issues.”

Stopnick declined to answer questions about what type of cracks Pate observed and whether the cracks contributed to the collapse.

Listen to Denney Pate’s voicemail below.

In a statement to HuffPost on Saturday, FIU officials said that the university’s design team, including employees from the university, Munilla Construction and FIGG Bridge, met on the construction site on the morning of the bridge collapse to discuss the crack in the structure, but concluded that there were no safety concerns.

“The FIGG engineer of record delivered a technical presentation regarding the crack and concluded that there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” FIU’s statement read.

FDOT employees were at that two-hour meeting, which started at 9 a.m., according to the university. The bridge collapsed later that afternoon.

On Friday, FDOT appeared to place some blame on the FIU design team, saying it was their responsibility to identify and address “life-safety issues” related to the bridge and communicate them to the state.

Florida International University spearheaded the 950-ton bridge project to provide its students with safe passage to campus over a busy road.

The university hired FIGG Bridge engineers to design the bridge and Munilla Construction Management to build it. Barnhart Crane and Rigging was contracted to erect the bridge last weekend.

FDOT said the department didn’t know that FIU’s bridge team planned to stress test the bridge, which Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez confirmed construction workers were doing before the bridge’s collapse. FDOT also noted that while the department issued FIU a blanket permit to allow two-lane road closures from January to April, the department never received a request from FIU’s team to close the entire road.

“Per standard safety procedure, FDOT would issue 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,” the department said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time FIGG’s bridges have collapsed during construction.

In June 2012, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry fined the company $28,000 after a section of bridge it was building, which weighed 90 tons, fell and left four workers with minor injuries, the Roanoke Times, a Virginia newspaper, reported.

At the time of the bridge’s erection, Atorod Azizinamini, chair of FIU’s civil and environmental engineering department, said the project was “an outstanding example of the ABC method” in a university news article that described the bridge as the “first of its kind.”

The ABC method, accelerated bridge construction, is an expedited technique that typically involves a majority of the structure being built off-site, then being moved into place. 

The method is supposed to reduce traffic closures and onsite construction time while improving “work-zone safety for the traveling public,” according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said investigations are proceeding at the local, state and federal levels. He also promised that people will be held accountable if there is evidence of wrongdoing.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of 15 experts to the scene to look into the collapse and examine why central supports were absent. 

The Miami-Dade Police Department’s homicide bureau is also leading its own investigation into the collapse, as is Munilla Construction Management, which was also involved in the project.

This story was updated to include a statement from Florida International University sent to HuffPost on Saturday.

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