NTSB Records Reveal Second Call to FDOT on Cracks Before FIU Bridge Collapse

The NTSB documents are part of the factual record the board will use when it meets Oct. 22 in Washington to determine a probable cause for the collapse.

It turns out a top Florida Department of Transportation bridge engineer missed two voicemails – not just one – about cracks in the FIU pedestrian bridge, the latest left just hours before it collapsed, killing six.

The engineer says he did not listen to either voicemail until the day after the bridge collapsed on March 15, 2018.

An FDOT consultant who attended a meeting on the cracks the morning of the disaster tried contacting FDOT engineer Tom Andres, according to testimony Andres gave to the National Transportation Safety Board, included among more than 6,200 pages of information released Tuesday by the NTSB.

In the message, Andres recalled, the FDOT liaison on the FIU bridge project "said, 'I understand that FIGG (the bridge designer and engineer) has talked to you about these cracks.' He just wanted me to confirm that I had talked to FIGG about the cracks. Of course, I did not."

That's because, Andres said, he did not know about the cracks, having failed to listen to another voicemail left two days earlier by FIGG's engineer of record telling him cracks were forming, though the FIGG engineer assured him on the voicemail it was not a safety issue.

FDOT, which did not disclose the second voicemail – and has failed to respond Tuesday to questions about it -- originally said Andres did not listen to the FIGG voicemail until Friday, March 16, claiming he returned to his office that day after being out of town.

But NBC 6 Investigators revealed that was not true – and Andres confirmed to the NTSB that he was actually back in the office Wednesday afternoon March 14 – the day before the bridge collapsed, though he maintains he did not listen to his voicemails until two days later.

FDOT says it has no record that would reveal when Andres retrieved his voicemails.

The NTSB documents are part of the factual record the board will use when it meets Oct. 22 in Washington to determine a probable cause for the collapse.

They include details from federal highway engineers who determined FIGG "made significant errors" in its bridge design, miscalculating forces that were being imposed on the critical portion of the structure that failed.

In response, FIGG issued a detailed rebuttal, saying the probable cause was actually a failure during construction to properly bond concrete at that critical juncture, where the bridge deck met the diagonal truss on the north end. FIGG said the deck concrete should have been roughened – not left smooth – before the truss concrete was poured, as required by FDOT standards referenced in the FIGG plans. Had that occurred, the bridge would not have failed, FIGG's consulting engineers concluded.

As contributing causes, FIGG also pointed to damage from the bridge move, a failure of the contractor to tell the engineer about the severity of the cracks and a failure to monitor the cracks as rebar in the diagonal truss was being re-stressed, as FIGG ordered, in an attempt to lessen the stresses on the area where cracks were forming. That re-stressing of the rods had just ended when the collapse occurred.

But engineers from the Federal Highway Administration clearly are pointing the finger at FIGG, noting, "the designer neither recognized that the … bridge had been compromised nor took appropriate action to mitigate the risk of failure."

FDOT, in its response to the NTSB, said it has changed its policies "to emphasize the critical importance of protecting human life, health and safety…. Questions regarding road closures that may be needed to prevent imminent risk of harm must be immediately brought to (FDOT's) attention," the policy now says.

The agency's chief engineer wrote that the road should have been closed "if the contractor was undertaking activities that posed a risk to the public."

But no one on the project expressed concern that the public was at risk, according to minutes of the meeting held the morning of the collapse, which included the FDOT consultant.

"Department employees faced with a situation like the one presented by the FIU Bridge would have been expected to have taken immediate action to close the road,'' wrote FDOT chief engineer Will Watts.

But, he also noted, "a department employee was not aware of the crack issue at the time of the collapse."

But – we now know, thanks to the NTSB release -- the consultant FDOT used to oversee the project for the agency was aware of the cracking and tried to talk to the FDOT engineer overseeing the project about the cracks – if only that engineer had listened to his voicemail.

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