Bridge designer left FDOT voice mail about cracks days before FIU bridge collapsed

Six died and the death toll will rise. The message was left in a state employee's voicemail two days before the bridge fell Thursday. FDOT said employees didn't hear it until Friday.
A pedestrian bridge at the Florida International University collapsed on Thursday, killing six people. More may be found under the rubble. [Miami Herald via Gabriela Collaz]
A pedestrian bridge at the Florida International University collapsed on Thursday, killing six people. More may be found under the rubble. [Miami Herald via Gabriela Collaz]
Published March 17, 2018|Updated March 17, 2018

Two days before a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University, killing at least six, an engineer with the firm that designed the structure called the state to report cracks in the concrete span.

While it's unclear if those cracks were a contributing factor to the catastrophic collapse Thursday, they were observed at the north end of the structure, which appeared to be the section that failed. The FIGG Bridge Group employee, Denney Pate, left a message with the Florida Department of Transportation Tuesday in which he acknowledged the structure needed to be repaired but dismissed the significance of the problem.

"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," Pate said, according to a transcript released Friday night by FDOT.

"Um, so, uh, 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 although obviously the cracking is not good and something's going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that. At any rate, I wanted to chat with you about that because I suspect at some point that's gonna get to your desk. So, uh, at any rate, call me back when you can. Thank you. Bye."

FDOT said the voicemail wasn't heard by any of its employees until Friday, the day after the bridge fell.

"This voicemail was left on a landline and not heard by an FDOT employee until Friday, March 16 as the employee was out of the office on assignment," the department said in a late evening press release. "When the employee returned to his office today, Friday, March 16, he was able to listen to the voicemail."

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An attempt to reach Florida International University spokeswoman Maydel Santana Bravo was not immediately successful.

Cracks are not unusual in concrete construction. They could be merely cosmetic, or potentially a sign of a more serious problem.

The information is the latest from the state asserting that FIU and its contractors, Munilla Construction Management and Figg, had overall responsibility for the project.

FDOT also said Friday that it had issued a blanket permit allowing for two-lane closures effective from January through April, but never received a request to close the entire road and was unaware of any scheduled stress testing of the bridge, which Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez confirmed took place Saturday.

"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 state said.

"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."

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The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the collapse. They are not expected to issue formal findings for months, if not longer. The state and local police are also investigating.

Miami Herald reporters Douglas Hanks and Andres Viglucci contributed to this report.