In a new report, federal investigators conclude that engineers in charge of design and construction of the ill-fated Florida International University pedestrian bridge should have acted, but failed to recognize the span was in danger of imminent collapse.

In a new report, federal investigators conclude that engineers in charge of design and construction of the ill-fated Florida International University pedestrian bridge should have acted, but failed to recognize the span was in danger of imminent collapse. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)

MIAMI - In a damning new report, federal work-safety investigators conclude that engineers in charge of design and construction of the ill-fated Florida International University pedestrian bridge should have shut down Southwest Eighth Street because of growing cracks in the structure, but failed to recognize the span was in danger of imminent collapse.

The 115-page report by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, obtained Tuesday by the Miami Herald, finds plenty of blame to spread around for the collapse of the bridge last year while under construction, from a "deficient" design by Tallahassee-based FIGG Bridge Engineers that led to structural failure, to inadequate oversight by two engineering consulting firms that were supposed to act as a backstop on design and construction, Louis Berger and Bolton Perez and Associates.

The OSHA report also faults the bridge contractor, Munilla Construction Management, or MCM, for not exercising "independent judgment with regard to implementing necessary safety measures" after FIGG engineers dismissed concerns over the growing cracks during a meeting on the morning of the March 15 collapse. OSHA inspectors conclude in the report that the road should have been closed "immediately" and the bridge shored up to prevent collapse.

The OSHA report is the first time federal investigators have stated unequivocally that the roadway should have been closed in response to the cracking on the bridge, one of the principal points of public concern after the fatal accident.

The OSHA report confirms an indication contained in a summary of the meeting released last month that FIGG concluded the cracks did not present a safety concern even though its engineers did not know what caused them - and despite clear evidence that they were growing daily. The report contains a series of emails and texts from construction crew members expressing alarm to superiors over the size and appearance of the cracks.

The engineers should have known the bridge needed to be shored up immediately "until final evaluations were done and remedial measures implemented," the report says.

Construction workers began expressing concerns about cracking soon after the span was lifted into place over the road on March 10, the report shows. That day, Kevin Hanson, supervisor of a crew tasked with adjusting the tension of structural support elements of the bridge after the installation, sent a text message reporting cracks that had him "visibly disturbed," according to accounts provided to OSHA.

"It cracked like hell," he wrote in a text message accompanying a photo of the cracks. The text went to his boss at VSL, Sam Nunez.

Two days later, on March 12, at least one MCM employee expressed worry about the cracks photographed earlier by a "disturbed" crew member of a subcontractor.

Shortly before 5 p.m., Rodrigo Isaza, MCM's senior project manager, sent an email to engineers with FIGG. The email contained photos of cracks at the bridge and a tone that OSHA described as a "sense of urgency."

Time lapse shows installation of FIU bridge and deadly collapse Isaza wrote "some of these cracks are rather large and/or of concern ... your immediate attention and response is required." But as late as the morning of the collapse, FIGG showed no sign of a sense of urgency and no concern over safety, the report indicates.

The 930-ton span fell onto the roadway suddenly as motorists were waiting under the bridge at a stoplight. Six people were killed, including one construction worker. Another worker was permanently disabled.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also conducting its own investigation into the causes of the bridge collapse. That report is expected later this year. In September, OSHA cited five companies for seven worker-safety violations in the bridge collapse, fining them a total of $86,658 in proposed penalties. The companies included FIGG, MCM and Bolton Perez & Associates.

On May 22, a federal bankruptcy judge in Miami presiding over MCM's post-collapse bankruptcy approved a $42 million insurance settlement for victims of the bridge failure or their survivors. FIU also gave up its claim to a $5 million insurance payout, with the requirement that it also go to the victims.

Visit Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com

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