History and Overview
Bridges are a pillar of the transportation system and the technology used to build them has progressed extensively over the past few decades. These improvements in construction are for the most part good and they tend to serve the public well. However, new construction methods are not always beneficial and may result in catastrophic failure. The Florida International University Pedestrian Bridge is a prime example of this. By using a construction technique known as Accelerated Bridge Construction, or the ABC technique, the project suffered from numerous missteps. It was this series of problems that lead to the tragic collapse of the bridge.
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The Florida International University Pedestrian Bridge (FIU) was proposed to increase the safety of pedestrians across an eight lane wide intersection in Sweetwater, Florida. The main purpose of this bridge was to connect student housing to the FIU campus to allow safe crossing for students after several fatal accidents at that intersection. One notable incident occurred in August of 2017 when a student was killed by a motorist trying to cross the busy highway. This accident, which received major attention in the press, played a major part in the expedition of the project. The project was funded with a $11.4 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant with the rest of funding coming from other agencies, including FIU. The entire project was $14.2 million with the bridge itself costing $9 million.
The two main companies working on this project were Munilla Construction Company based out of Miami and a Tallahassee-based firm known as FIGG Bridge Engineers. A key difference between this bridge and others around the state was that the construction of this bridge was supervised by the university itself instead of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The university is known for its knowledge in accelerated bridge construction and has an extensive track record in the research of this method. There is also a federally funded building dedicated to this research on the campus. Because of their close ties to the ABC method of construction, it was decided that this would be a mainstay of the project.
After the TIGER grant was awarded in 2013, planning for the project went underway. Many agencies at the local, state, and federal levels came together to create a partnership that was supposed to bring both FIU and the city of Sweetwater into the future. Known as the University City Prosperity Project, this bridge was just one part of a multi-modal pedestrian focused improvement project.
‘The FIU-Sweetwater bridge will serve many purposes including being a visually distinctive gateway to our city…. This bridge is symbolic of the growth our city is experiencing and our partnership with FIU.’ (Lacayo).
The bridge was seen a catalyst for economic development and the expansion of both FIU and Sweetwater. Furthermore, the press generated by the project emphasized how the ABC method of construction was supposed to be beneficial for both the public and workers in terms of safety and traffic interruptions.
‘The 174-foot, 950-ton section of the bridge was built adjacent to Southwest Eight Street using Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods, which are being advanced at FIU’s Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center (ABC-UTC). This method of construction reduces potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions. The main span of the FIU-Sweetwater University City Bridge was installed in a few hours with limited disruption to traffic over this weekend.’ (Lacayo)
As Lacayo mentions, the ABC method was supposed to make the construction process safer. While the construction technique had many benefits on paper its implementation produced some oversights which will later be expanded upon.
Construction on this project began in the spring of 2017 and was to be completed by December of 2018. The project never reached completion as a result of its collapse in March of 2018. The ABC method had the main span built away from the project which was a major factor in decreasing traffic interruption. This also added to the safety factor because it gave workers a more controlled environment for its construction. Furthermore, it decreased the workers’ exposure to traffic which is beneficial to both them and the public. Once the main span was built, it only took a few hours for the element to be put into place. Another important milestone for this project is that it was the first bridge to be completely built out of self-cleaning concrete.
‘When exposed to sunlight, the titanium dioxide in the concrete captures pollutants and turns it bright white, reducing maintenance costs.’ (Lacayo)
Unfortunately, despite the upside the project enabled, all of that was undone within a short amount of time due to the lack of due diligence early on the design phase as well as careless actions during the post-tensioning process.
Several parties were stakeholders in this project. The first that comes to mind are the government agencies at the local, state, and federal level. The Federal Highway Administration, Florida Department of Transportation Local Agency Program, the City of Sweetwater, as well as the USDOT were all agencies that were involved with funding the project. Although the USDOT provided the majority of funding, Florida International University and the City of Sweetwater had the most at stake in this project. Their collaboration focused on the merging of FIU’s growth with the growth of Sweetwater. This project was the first step towards that goal and future plans for expansion. With regards to that, those two agencies had the most to gain or lose. Also, with FIU overseeing the project, this was their chance to show the just how innovative the ABC method was. Once again, the university was known as the champion of this technique and its success would bring good public relations along with it. The government agencies are also responsible for making sure construction work is built to code as well as meeting safety standards.
The contractors in this project had a high level of influence and interest in this project, but not as much as the agencies themselves. The agencies had to check the design and supervise the construction done by FIGG Bridge Engineers and Munilla Construction Management (MCM). Although the interest would be high for the contractors, they usually have more than one project on deck so resources may be limited depending on the number of current projects. In other words, their time is split among projects
Throughout the entire project process, the public must be provided with general information. The area was known to be hazardous and many people were happy to hear that a bridge would be built to increase safety. Because the bridge connected student housing where first years usually live, a lot of the students’ parents were also in support of the project. This was made apparent, especially after the tragic death of a student the year before. Also, the students themselves have a very high interest in the project and must be kept informed. They do not hold much influence regarding the project, but are the stakeholders that would ultimately use the bridge to access campus. Below is a stakeholder influence/interest matrix showcasing where each stakeholder belongs:
Provide General Information
The sponsors for this project were the mayor of Sweetwater, Orlando Lopez, and the executive board of FIU. There were three sponsors on FIU’s executive board that stood out as major allies: President Mark Rosenberg, Senior Vice President and CFO Kenneth Jessell, and the director of FIU’s Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center (ABC-UTC) Atorod Azizinamini.
It was through the direction and partnership between FIU President Rosenberg and Mayor Lopez that this project was able to takeoff. Mayor Lopez saw the significance of FIU’s growth and knew that improvements to its campus were improvements for the city of Sweetwater. Their alliance created the foundation that brought other state and federal agencies on board. Not only did FIU’s expansion grow the economy in Sweetwater, but other agencies recognized its importance for the development of Miami-Dade County and the entire South Florida Region.
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As stated before, FIU is well known for their research on the ABC construction method. With their expertise on the subject the director of the ABC-UTC, Atorod Azizinamini, pushed for the use of the ABC method to be implemented. With FIU overseeing the project, using the ABC method was an easy choice for them to make. It seems possible that FIU could have been put in charge as a result of their expertise in the ABC method and civil engineering in general.
Though the project was a failure, there were many parts that went as planned. First, the partnership between the university and the agencies was a major victory. The research suggests that there were not any issues involving funding and that there was not no push back from either side. It is rare for that many agencies to come to an agreement on terms and the process for planning out the project was fairly easy.
Regarding construction, there were some positives aspects as well. A higher degree of safety was achieved by using the ABC method to build the main span away from the project site. By fabricating the span offsite, the workers could build in a controlled environment without having to worry about surrounding traffic. This also saved money and time on traffic control. The bridge also reached a few milestones. It is the largest pedestrian bridge to be moved via Self-Propelled Modular Transportation in United States history. It is also the first bridge to be constructed entirely out of self-cleaning concrete. The design of the bridge was able looking to attain a cable-stayed bridge look by using a concrete truss design. To clarify, the bridge looked like a cable-stayed bridge, but was actually a concrete truss because the spans were self-supporting. Even though concrete trusses are rarely used in construction, the way they were able to achieve this look was clever. The vertical web of the spans had the diagonal struts aligned with the pipes to obtain a false cable-stayed appearance. Altogether, this bridge was a one of a kind. Many novel approaches were taken to complete the project
- Gomez, Adriana L. Replogle, Josh. “Tearful Families Wait as Bodies Remain Under Failed Bridge”. Associated Press, 16 Mar. 2018. Web. 1, Dec. 2018.
- Mazzei, Patricia. Saul, Stephanie. “Bridge Collapse Saps Spirits and Research Efforts at Florida International University”. New York Times, 17 Mar. 2018. Web. 30, Nov. 2018.
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