The Florida Department of Transportation distanced itself from the bridge construction and collapse late Thursday, saying that the company hired by FIU’s design team to provide “an independent, secondary design check” had not been pre-qualified for the job. That design check is often a technicality but is required by the state.
In a fact sheet of “preliminary findings,” FDOT emphasized that the Florida International University pedestrian project was a “local agency project” under contract with FIU, and not one managed by the state.
“There will clearly be an investigation to see exactly what happened and why this happened,’’ said Gov. Rick Scott during an evening news conference with law enforcement and FIU officials. He emphasized this was “not a FDOT project” and said “we will hold anybody accountable if anybody has done anything wrong.”
Under the contract, however, the project required “an independent, secondary design check,” and the design team, FIGG Bridge Engineers, hired another engineering firm, Louis Berger. That firm “was not FDOT pre-qualified for this service, which is required under FIU’s agreement with the state. FIU’s design build team is responsible for selecting a pre-qualified firm and ensuring this process is followed,” the release said.
Drew Piers, a spokesman for the company, would say only in response: “FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. is the designer of the bridge working for MCM.” MCM is the Miami-based construction firm hired by FIU to manage and construct the bridge.
There was no immediate comment from Louis Berger.
FDOT said it acted as a pass-through for federal funding and provided $57,000 in state funding for the $16.5 million pedestrian walkway. The project was built at an off-site location by MCM and moved into place on March 10, the agency statement said. “The walkway was set in place on top of two piers which were constructed on-site.”
“FIU’s design build team is responsible for the proper and safe completion of this project and for compliance with all applicable laws and engineering and construction standards,” DOT said. “Additionally, any testing done to the structure following its installation was the responsibility of the FIU design build team.”
FDOT said it issued the permit for traffic control during installation of the structure on Saturday, conducted a routine preliminary review to ensure this project complied with the terms of the agreement with the state, and authorized FIU to use the aerial space above the state road to build the bridge.
FDOT said that FIU and its contractors “are solely responsible to inspect and maintain at the university’s sole expense.”
Asked by reporters at the news conference Thursday if criminal negligence was involved, FIU President Mark Rosenberg said: ‘There will be all kinds of possibilities. I don’t think we can discard those possibilities.”
He said the project was conceived in 2010 and the university “worked for years in collaboration with the state and the city of Sweetwater.”
FIU “followed all processes through competitive bidding and the engineering company is fully certified by the state and recommended to us by FDOT,” he added. “We are extremely saddened by this.”