The Florida Department of Transportation Thursday revised its timeline in the Florida International University bridge collapse, saying its original statement could have been worded better.
It previously claimed a state bridge engineer -- who did not listen to a days-old voicemail alerting him to cracks in the bridge until after it collapsed -- was not able to listen to the voicemail until he “returned to his office” on Friday, March 16 “as the employee was out of the office on assignment.”
Now the agency is saying Thomas Andres returned to agency headquarters from his out of office assignment on the morning of Thursday March 15, hours before the bridge collapsed, though it still says he did not listen to the voicemail until the day after.
Here is the department’s original statement on this matter: “(The) voicemail was left on a landline and not heard by an FDOT employee until Friday, March 16 as the employee was out of the office on assignment. When the employee returned to his office (on) Friday, March 16, he was able to listen to the voicemail.”
After this article appeared online, FDOT contacted NBC 6 and said its position had not changed from its original timeline.
The agency said it did not mean to imply in its statement that Andres returned to his office on March 16 after being out of the office on assignment until that date.
“I see it looks that way,” said interim communications director Ed Seifert. “We could have worded it better.”
The latest on FDOT’s timeline comes more than two weeks after the NBC 6 Investigators requested calendars and timesheets that could help pinpoint exactly what Andres was doing during the days he says the voicemail sat in his FDOT phone system without being listened to.
FDOT has not revised its statement that Andres first listened to the voicemail from the engineer of record on the project, Denney Pate of FIGG Bridge Engineers, on Friday, March 16 – the day after the pedestrian bridge collapsed onto Eighth Street, killing one worker and five people in vehicles below.
In the message, which FDOT said was left on Tuesday, March 13, Pate stated there was “cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span,” the area that would fail two days later. “Obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done, but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective, although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.”
FDOT and Andres have not answered a key question: Would they have ordered Eighth Street shut down had they heard about the cracks before the bridge collapsed?
It did issue this statement, though: "The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design build team. At no point during any of the communications above did FIGG or any member of the FIU design build team ever communicate a life-safety issue. Again, FIGG and the FIU design build team never alerted FDOT of any life-safety issue regarding the FIU pedestrian bridge prior to collapse."
The agency also noted the number to Andres' state-issued cell phone is listed in his email signature and Pate "could have called the mobile phone but instead chose to leave a message on the employee’s landline."
NBC 6 has now requested any record that could reveal the exact time the voicemail was played back for the first time.
Andres’ calendar reflects he was in Pensacola on a site visit for the two days prior to the collapse, and that he returned to his office on Thursday, March 15.
The bridge collapsed at 1:47 p.m. that day.
On Friday, FDOT revealed Andres was back at FDOT's headquarters, where his office is located, on the morning of Thursday, March 15, for meetings.
In response to questions from NBC 6, FDOT spokesman Tom Yu Thursday wrote that Andres “worked in office and responded to bridge collapse inquiries” on March 15.
The latest development comes less than a week after NBC 6 first reported evidence showing FDOT was more involved in overseeing the FIU bridge design and construction than it said in a statement in the hours after the failure.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office sent out an FDOT “fact sheet” within six hours of the collapse stating FDOT’s role in the design was limited to “conducting a routine preliminary review to ensure this project complied with the terms of the agreement with the state.”
In fact, emails and other records uncovered by NBC 6, reveal Andres expressed concerns about the design – and the potential for cracking – in March 2016 and continued offering comments or accepting revisions to the plans through at least as late as September 2017. FIGG made some modifications to address Andres’ concerns.
But so far, no record has emerged to show subsequent plans addressed Andres’ concerns about the inset for a drain pipe that would have run along the bottom center of the walkway. Andres in March 2016 said it would “likely create a weak point which will be a crack initiation point.”
Three months later, FIGG said the area Andres was concerned about was a “compression zone” and that “cracking is not expected to initiate from zones of compression.” An engineer who reviewed the latest publicly available drawings for NBC 6 said he did not see any changes to the drain pipe design, though it’s possible other revisions could have addressed Andres’ concerns.