Recent Bridge Collapse Brings Awareness to Construction Risks

Madeleine Jones
April 9, 2018

a road bridge, accident lawyerThe recent bridge collapse at Florida State University has drawn attention to the safety of a rapid bridge construction technique that is used to erect bridges throughout the United States. The Florida bridge was built with accelerated construction techniques that have been linked to at least two other bridge failures in recent years. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a bridge accident, call an experienced Las Vegas injury attorney at Cogburn Law Offices today for a free case consultation.

Are ABC Bridges Safe?

To speed up construction and reduce traffic congestion, sections of bridges are sometimes built offsite, then moved into place all at once with a technique that is commonly referred to as ABC. Since bridges typically span long distances over freeways and other structures, blocking traffic and increasing the risk of motor vehicle crashes and worker injuries, this construction process is frequently preferred by construction engineers. The pedestrian bridge at Florida International University was partially assembled by the side of the highway, then moved into place. The bridge, weighing 950 tons and spanning close to 200 feet, was designed to connect the university with the city of Sweetwater. Drawings of the finished bridge showed support cables for the walkway attached to a tall, off-center tower. However when the bridge collapsed, the main tower had not yet been constructed, so it could not have been used for cable supports.

The collapse of the Florida bridge resulted in vehicles becoming crushed by huge slabs of concrete, numerous injuries, and several fatalities. Search-and-rescue crews worked throughout the night with search cameras, sonic listening devices, and rescue dogs looking for survivors among the debris. Nine people were taken to local hospitals for serious injuries, and four people were found dead at the scene.

Safety Investigations

The 2018 Florida bridge collapse has prompted safety investigations by federal and state authorities. The main companies behind the $14.2 million construction project, FIGG, and Munilla Construction Management are under scrutiny about their past projects that used accelerated construction techniques.

In 2012, FIGG was fined $28,000 after a Virginia bridge section weighing 90 tons collapsed while under construction, crashing onto railroad tracks below the bridge and causing injuries to several workers. The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry reported that FIGG modified a girder, but did not get written permission from the manufacturer or do a proper inspection first.

In 2017, Munilla Construction Management was sued for substandard work on a bridge at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. During construction, a section of the bridge collapsed, resulting in several injuries to construction workers. Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) records reveal that Munilla Construction Management has received 11 safety violations and $50,000 in fines in the last five years for complaints about problems at its Florida construction sites. Workers have filed numerous complaints and worker’s compensation claims for injuries related to unsafe work trenches, faulty equipment, and lack of protective gear such as respiratory masks and hardhats.

Although accelerated bridge construction has been used safely in the United States since the mid-19th century, recent collapses have created many questions and concerns about the construction process. Some engineers consider it to be safer for hardhat workers, as well as motorists and pedestrians who often travel below bridges that are under construction. Some authorities believe that inexperienced workers, cheap and/or faulty materials, and speedy construction are contributing to recent bridge collapses.

Civil engineering experts who reviewed photos and construction plans of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge have raised questions about the ways that builders approached the project. Questions were raised about the installation of a large span of concrete above a busy highway prior to building the main support tower. They stated that the tower should be built first to anchor the support cables for the bridge span. Other engineers support the use of accelerated construction techniques used for bridges with long spans. They state that this building method has been used on thousands of bridges around the country with no incidents of collapse or pedestrian injuries.

According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, there are 54,000 U.S. bridges in need of repairs. Reports show that there are over 600,000 bridges in America that connect highways and roadways, cities, and communities. Out of those 600,000 bridges, over 54,000 are structurally deficient, having at least one main structural element that’s in poor condition. More than 170 million cars and pedestrians cross these deficient bridges every day, so the risk of serious injuries is quite high.

The accelerated construction technique was developed and promoted to support rapid repairs to all of America’s deficient bridges, as well as rapid and less expensive construction for new bridges. However, recent bridge collapses have raised red flags about safety that may slow down repairs and new bridge construction until problems are resolved.