The company that designed a pedestrian bridge that collapsed while under construction in Florida is the same one that worked on the new Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis after the old span collapsed more than 10 years ago.
The pedestrian bridge in Miami collapsed Thursday, killing at least six people and injuring 10 others. The Florida firm that designed it, FIGG Bridge Group, also worked on two major bridges spanning the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota and the Wabasha Freedom Bridge in St. Paul.
But local officials say that’s no cause for concern.
The Hwy. 43 bridge in Winona, Minn., and the I-90 Dresbach bridge in La Crescent, Minn., opened within the past two years and have had no issues, said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
“The 35W bridge is 10 years old and has been inspected regularly,” with no major issues surfacing, he said.
The previous I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed in August 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others. After that tragedy, FIGG was selected by the general contractor, Flatiron-Manson, to design the $233 million replacement bridge that is now in use.
Gutknecht noted MnDOT has a rigorous inspection program where all bridges are inspected at least once every two years, and bridges deemed “structurally deficient” are inspected annually.
“It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison,” said Winona Mayor Mark Peterson, when asked about the similarities between the Hwy. 43 bridge and the Florida pedestrian structure.
The I-90 bridge cost $188 million and is part of a heavily used commuter route for travelers in the La Crosse, Wis.-La Crescent region.
The Wabasha bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River from downtown St. Paul, is 20 years old and owned by the city. Spokeswoman Lisa Hiebert said bridges in the capital city are inspected annually, and the Wabasha structure has a nearly perfect sufficiency rating.
A separate underwater inspection two years ago unearthed no issues, she said, noting between 10,000 to 15,000 vehicles use the Wabasha bridge on a daily basis.
FIGG said in a statement that it was stunned by the collapse at Florida International University. The cause is under investigation, but authorities say cables supporting the bridge were being tightened following a “stress test” when the 950-ton concrete span collapsed.
Florida Department of Transportation officials said Friday that engineer Denney Pate of FIGG left a voicemail two days before the bridge collapsed to say some cracking had been found at one end of the concrete span, but the voicemail wasn’t picked up until after the collapse.
The voicemail left on a landline wasn’t heard by a state DOT employee until Friday because the employee was out of the office on an assignment, the agency said.
In a transcript, Pate says the cracking would need repairs “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.”
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board said they have just begun their investigation, and cannot yet say whether any cracking contributed to the collapse.
The $14.2 million project was supposed to be a hallmark of the faster, cheaper and less-risky method of bridge-building promoted by the university. Slated to open in 2019, it would have provided safe passage over a canal and six lanes of traffic, and it was intended to be a showpiece architectural feature connecting the FIU campus and the community of Sweetwater, where many students live.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.