MIAMI (AP) — A bridge at a South Florida university that collapsed and killed six people last year showed significant design errors and should have been more carefully monitored by the state government because of the project's complexity, federal officials said Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board members concluded that the design firm FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. underestimated the load of the bridge and overestimated its strength in a critical section that splintered, dropping a 174-foot-long span onto eight cars on March 15, 2018.
NTSB's chairman Robert Sumwalt said the cracking observed days before the collapse should have prompted contractors and the Florida International University to close the road but did not, leading to a "catastrophic loss of life."
The engineers investigating the collapse told the board members the cracks were 40 times larger than what is commonly accepted. Dan Walsh said they were "alarming warning signs," and that it was as if "the bridge was talking" to the contractors.
"It wasn't just talking, it was screaming at them," Sumwalt said. "Yet no one was listening."
Sumwalt also said he had never seen so much finger-pointing among parties involved in a transportation project. FIGG maintained on Tuesday that the bridge would not have collapsed if a critical section had been built according to state standards. But the NTSB findings said the bridge could still have failed because of design miscalculations.
Designed to look like a cable-stayed bridge, the project was uncommon in that it was constructed with concrete rather than steel as similar bridges are, engineers said. The project's complexity required greater oversight than was given by the Florida Department of Transportation, the board said in its findings.
The 19-month investigation concluded the company that had been tasked to conduct an independent review and spot potential design errors was mistakenly listed as qualified by the state transportation department.
Transportation department officials said the builders shouldn't have relied on its website-generated report as proof of credentials, but NTSB's vice chairman Bruce Landsberg said the state should have paid more attention.
"If you can't get correct information on your website, you shouldn't put it up at all," he said.
Another board member, Jennifer Homendy, asked investigators whether any of the contractors or university officials suggested that roads under the bridge be closed while work was being done to fix the cracking. Walsh said they did not.
The bridge collapsed immediately after crews tightened support rods in the northern section of the bridge.
Florida International University said in a statement that it relied on professionals to notify the university of safety concerns. The engineers said the cracks were not a safety concern.
"We are heartbroken that the road was not closed and are committed to doing our part to help prevent something similar from happening again," the statement said.
The university said it intends to build a new bridge where the victims will be memorialized.
This story has been edited to correct the length of the investigation to 19 months.