Joshua Ceballos/Investigative Editor
FIU’s next pedestrian bridge is definitely coming in the next few years. An administrator says the need for a bridge is “even greater” today than it was years ago.
“At the time [we got the first grant for the bridge] we didn’t have 109 Tower, 4th Street Commons, Identity or The One,” said University Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell, referring to the scores of apartment buildings that have popped up in Sweetwater every other day.
Jessell, who oversaw much of the planning for the first bridge which collapsed on March 15, 2018, said because foot traffic has only increased since the first bridge was planned, a new bridge is in the best interest of students crossing Southwest Eighth Street.
The University’s announcement of a new bridge project raised some eyebrows when it came out the same day the National Transportation Safety Board placed blame on all parties for failing to notice clear signs of danger on the first bridge at a livestreamed conference.
In an email sent on Tuesday, Oct. 22, University President Mark B. Rosenberg said that he was “heartbroken” that the bridge was not closed, leading to the death of six individuals including FIU student Alexa Duran, and that the new bridge would memorialize those individuals.
Rosenberg also shared Jessell’s sentiment that the need for a new bridge is pressing.
“The number of students living on the other side of 8th Street is expected to double, and a pedestrian bridge is needed for the more than 3,000 students who must cross 8th Street safely several times a day,” said Rosenberg in the email.
Jessell said that there are no definite plans right now on commemorating the victims of the collapse, but said they’d do something “meaningful” as a tribute for them.
“We know that one was a student who was much loved by many and we want to do something in particular for her [Duran],” he said.
As for how the new bridge will be built and whether it will be made using Accelerated Bridge Construction, Jessell couldn’t say.
Accelerated Bridge Construction is a method of building bridges away from the final site and then installing them within a few hours. This means that roads only have to be closed in the final stage of construction when the bridge is placed.
ABC was used to construct the first bridge, as FIU is the home of one of the country’s major engineering programs studying the practice: ABC-University Transportation Center, headed by professor and career bridge engineer Atorod Azizinamini.
Azizinamini told PantherNOW that many people have misconceptions about ABC, thinking that the process is too quick and therefore unsafe. According to him, that’s far from the truth.
“People think you try to shorten construction time, but that’s not the case. The total construction time is the same or even more,” said Azizinamini. “We just minimize the amount of activity on-site, we do most of it offsite. So you limit the time and safety concerns.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 11, Azizinamini and ABC-UTC are hosting the biennial Accelerated Bridge Construction Conference at the Hyatt Regency Miami to bring experts from around the world to discuss new ABC methods.
Around 700 people are coming to the conference, including keynote speakers from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. Azizinamini said that this is a testament to the success and merit of ABC.
The professor would not comment on the FIU pedestrian bridge, saying he had nothing to add beyond what the NTSB had reported.
He did say, however, that bridges made with ABC are just as safe, if not safer, than regularly constructed bridges.
“We make sure we don’t compromise on the quality [of the bridges]. Across the US, there’s no compromise on quality. Results in long-lasting durability,” said Azizinamini.
The Federal Highway Administration lists durability and safety as two main benefits to ABC on their website.
The NTSB did not list ABC as a factor in the collapse of the FIU bridge, instead pointing to errors in the design and oversight of the project.
At the conference, they will also discuss a new bridge-building material called “Ultra-High Performance Concrete,” concrete that is so dense that not even moisture can permeate it.
Azizinamini said that new bridges built with UHPC will last much longer than others, and FIU is developing methods to spray UHPC to repair cracks in existing bridges.
As for the new pedestrian bridge, not much is clear beyond the fact that it’s sure to come.
FIU has entered into a $9.5 million settlement with insurance companies over the collapse of the first bridge, which Jessell said will be used to fund the new project. He is also trying to recover $3.2 million in federal funding that was meant for the first bridge but expired this fall.
The NTSB made it clear in their findings that the parties involved in the first construction project should have seen the enormous cracks in the bridge and held off on installment, but didn’t. That includes FIU.
When it comes to avoiding the same tragic mistakes, Jessell had this to say:
“It is my commitment that I will do everything to expedite the development of the process and it is the University’s commitment to work as closely with [the Florida Department of Transportation] and [the Federal Highway Administration] to have a wonderful safe bridge.”