Jordan Coll / News Director
It’s been three years since the collapse of the FIU pedestrian bridge took place at SW Eighth Street and SW 109 Avenue, taking the lives of six people, including FIU student Alexa Duran.
The bridge collapsed due to structural errors found within the designs of the bridge. After the tragedy, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that all parties were held responsible for the fatal incident.
Now three years later, the Florida Department of Transportation will handle the design, and construction of the second bridge. FIU’s role will be to transfer $9.1 million over to FDOT for the project, announced on Feb.23 at the FIU Board of Trustees meeting.
“We are very happy that the project is continuing,” said Kenneth Jessell, FIU’s chief financial officer.
The first bridge went up on March 10, 2018. Five days later around 1:47 p.m., the bridge collapsed hours after it was unveiled due to cracks found within the bridge.
Issues in the truss members 11/12 on the north side, including the bridge deck, caused the overpass to cave in. Structural damages between the nodes were more than 45 times wider than is considered acceptable for reinforced concrete structures, according to a report released this year by the National Road Safety Commission.
The report also revealed FIGG Bridge Group, the company hired to design the bridge by Munilla Construction Management -who was in charge of the project- made calculation errors, overseen by Bolton Perez, a firm contracted to review the design. FIU could have suspended the project along with FIGG, FDOT, MCM, and Bolton Perez, but did not, despite clear signs of significant cracks found on the side of the bridge.
Families of the six people who died from the incident sued over 20 defendants for their role in the collapse of the 950-ton bridge. MCM agreed to pay up to $42 million in a settlement to the victims and their families.
The intent of the first bridge was to help student pedestrians cross the street from the Modesto Maidique Campus over to the City of Sweetwater. In an area where student life is present, SW Eighth street is next to the Florida Turnpike making it a high risk zone for pedestrians.
Florida state is ranked No.1 of most dangerous states in the U.S. for pedestrians according to the 2021 “Dangerous By Design” report obtained from Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.
On the other side of the dangerous road, the private off-campus apartment building 109 Tower opened its doors for students followed by The One apartment building.
“I am just concerned. How do I know this bridge won’t end up falling like the last one?” said Paula Ulerio, a senior majoring in psychology who has lived at The One, since August of last year.
But, “The need today is greater than it was before,” said Jessell to PantherNOW.
This time around, FIU’s role in the second pedestrian bridge will be limited to funding it.
With a total cost of $14.6 million for the second bridge, the university will hand over $9.1 million to FDOT from the $8.5 million from the settlement of the original bridge. The remaining costs will be covered through the following monetary sources: around $560,000 from FIU funds, and $5,560 funds previously provided by Sweetwater and $3.3 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, a federal grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
What happens now?
The second bridge will go through a two year design process, all under FDOT, afterwards the project will be auctioned and if awarded construction is expected to begin “early as April of 2023,” according to Daniel Iglesias, director of transportation and development at FDOT.
“FIU was really the lead party in the design and construction of the bridge. In this case, the department has procured and is going to execute a contract with a designer to design the project,” said Iglesias.
FDOT selected BCC engineering, a design construction firm, as the design consultant for the second bridge and is finalizing terms by the end of this month, according to FDOT.
“It’s premature to tell,” he said, when asked on the design differences of the second bridge compared to the first.
“The bridge is going to serve those areas, direct connection to the towers, to my knowledge it hasn’t been discussed, we haven’t really developed the designs,” said Iglesias.
FDOT has also made a few policy changes since the collapse of the first bridge, according to a press release. These new guidelines ensure that if any of the companies involved notice issues in the project they must close the street.
The second bridge would cost $14.6 million, which is around $2 million more than the previous bridge, according to Jessell.
Jessell says the difference in pricing comes down to price appreciation, or the increase in the cost of building the bridge since it was originally designed five years ago.
“We know that the cost of the new bridge will be higher than it was when the original bridge construction contract was finalized and the notice to proceed was issued in 2016,” said Jessell in an email to PantherNOW.
The university has accounted for any additional costs associated with the construction of the second bridge budget approved between FDOT and FIU.
These additional costs apply for anything that is unforeseen during the building of the second bridge, such as underground water or sewer pipelines.
“We are not anticipating, quite honestly, anything of significance coming up because we know the current site very well,” said Jessell.
The university will hold a moment of silence today at 1:47 p.m. at the Betty Chapman Plaza in MMC, in remembrance of the three-year anniversary of the bridge collapse.