Collapse Of FIU Pedestrian Bridge Prompts Homicide, Transportation Investigations

Mar 16, 2018

The pedestrian bridge at Florida International University 's Modesto Maidique Campus was touted as a marvel for traffic-burdened Southwest Eighth Street. An average of 66,500 cars a day crossed the intersection with Southwest 109th Avenue in 2016.

Last weekend, the $14.2 million project was installed. By 2019, the cable-supported bridge would link the city of Sweetwater, where about 4,000 students live, and the school’s main campus across the street.

Less than a week later, the bridge collapsed. On Thursday afternoon, the six lanes of Tamiami Trail became a scene reminiscent of an earthquake.

Six people were killed and several cars were trapped underneath, according to Miami-Dade police. Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez confirmed Friday that one of the victims was an FIU student,  whose identity wasn't released as families were being informed.

David Downey, chief id the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Battalion, described the collapse “an 11 on a scale from one to 10.” It’s unclear what caused the bridge to collapse.

Read more: Tragic Flaw And Fate: Catastrophic FIU Bridge Collapse ‘An 11 On Scale Of 1-To-10’ 

Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of The National Transportation Safety Board, said Friday the agency already has done a preliminary walk through the scene. Once victim recovery is complete, NTSB will begin an independent investigation to issue a report on avoiding a similar incident in the future.

Juan Perez, director of Miami-Dade Police, said Friday the department is treating the collapse as a homicide investigation and is expecting to find more victims as recovery continues.

MCM Construction and FIGG Bridge Design collaborated on the project. Both released statements Thursday, expressing their condolences and commitment to supporting any investigations.

"We will fully cooperate with every appropriate authority in reviewing what happened and why," Tallahassee-based FIGG said in its statement. "In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before."

In 2012, FIGG was fined $28,000 in Virginia for the collapse of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge.

Authorities announced Friday morning Southwest Eighth Street between 107th and 117th avenues will be closed indefinitely.

FIU and the Red Cross have set up a family reunification center on campus.

This week, WLRN’s Nadege Green and Tom Hudson host a pledge-edition of The Florida Roundup, showcasing the station’s reporting efforts. They catch up on the collapsed bridge and other major stories from the week with fellow reporters Jessica Bakeman, Peter Haden, Sammy Mack, Tim Padgett and Caitie Switalski.

NADEGE GREEN: Tim, what were you hearing? What are we hearing so far from the elected officials and FIU?

PADGETT: One of the big questions is, "What were these reported stress tests that construction workers were apparently doing on the bridge in the moments or the hours before the bridge collapsed?" Could that have been a factor in bringing the bridge down? Since last night, there has been a lot of questioning of why was traffic allowed to even be going under this pedestrian bridge if you were doing something like a stress test that could have compromised in any way the integrity of that expanse. 

N.G.: And we know that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was actually quoted in The Miami Herald and other media outlets saying there was a stress test happening right before the collapse. But since then, the county has walked that back.

PADGETT: One county official I spoke to last night said that there are different kinds of stress tests, and there are sometimes stress tests that really don't necessitate diverting traffic away from the bridge. So we're going to have to see how that all sifts out.

There are also questions as to whether both ends of the bridge were as securely fastened as they were supposed to be by this stage. There's still a feeling that there was sort of an incomplete nature to this bridge at that time.

N.G.: What do we know about the construction companies? MCM Construction is the Miami-based firm that FIU hired to build this bridge.

PADGETT: Munilla Construction Management was the main construction company on the project. It's a longtime Cuban American, family-owned construction firm here. But it has had its share of controversies – most recently a lawsuit filed against it in Broward having to do with a construction project at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

I think we're going to be seeing a lot of these these controversies now coming to light, and that will also push questions onto FIU in terms of its vetting of these construction companies as the university is the chief of the project.

This post was updated.