A pedestrian bridge connecting the campus at Florida International University (FIU) and the neighboring city of Sweetwater collapsed Thursday, killing multiple people. The tragedy occurred less than a week after the installation of the bridge, which FIU had heralded as a “construction marvel” in a press release.
The cause or causes of the collapse are unknown and will likely remain uncertain until after an in-depth investigation. But what can be said is that the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge, which had not yet opened to foot traffic, went up last week amid fanfare atypical for a pedestrian walkway.
This was in part because the bridge used Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods. This innovative technique — developed at FIU’s own Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center — involved building the span of the bridge near its eventual destination above Southwest Eight Street, and then using special vehicles to move it into position. That process is called Self-Propelled Modular Transportation, and you can see it in action below.
FIU claimed multiple firsts for the bridge, which FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg called an “engineering feat” in the March 10 statement. Not only was the bridge the largest in American history installed using this method, but it was also the first in the world buil using self-cleaning concrete, which was designed to capture pollutants during daylight hours and turn them white, reducing cleaning and maintenance needs.
The university’s factsheet also touted the bridge’s supposedly remarkable durability. The bridge was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, and its design life was intended to be longer than 100 years.
Again, it’s not yet possible to know whether the bridge collapsed because of any of these new or innovative methods employed or if its destruction occurred despite all these safety measures baked into the construction process. A Miami New Time report has pointed out that Munilla Construction Management and Figg Bridge Group, two of the firms involved in the bridge’s construction, have both been accused of unsafe practices in the past.
Whatever the case, the bridge’s collapse can at least be seen as a testament to the fragility of our own ingenuity — whether because of some error in the process that precipitated the collapse, or because sometimes disaster strikes for reasons beyond our control.