Firms Behind FIU Bridge Collapse Have History of Violations - NBC 7 San Diego
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Firms Behind FIU Bridge Collapse Have History of Violations

The pedestrian bridge at FIU was the first joint venture for Munilla Construction Management and FIGG

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Questions Over Bridge Design and Testing After Collapse

    NBC 6's Tony Pipitone reports on the development of the FIU bridge that collapsed on Thursday, killing at least four people.

    (Published Thursday, March 15, 2018)

    What to Know

    • The 950-ton bridge was put to a "stress adjustment" before it collapsed over traffic on Thursday.

    • At least six people were killed after the bridge collapsed and crushed people, cars.

    The companies behind a pedestrian bridge that collapsed near Florida International University have faced questions about their past work, and one is accused of substandard work in a lawsuit filed earlier this month.

    Munilla Construction Management, a Miami-based construction management firm, won the $14.2 million contract to build a pedestrian walkway that would connect the FIU campus to the city of Sweetwater. The partially built 175-foot, 950-ton section of the bridge had been assembled by the side of the highway and moved into place Saturday to great fanfare. It collapsed just five days later, trapping cars underneath and leaving at least six people dead.

    MCM said on Twitter that it is "a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist. We will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way."

    The company has a long history of working on large-scale government contracts in Florida and across the U.S., and it has been a prolific donor to local and federal politicians, according to the Miami Herald. It has also had some safety issues.

    A review of Occupational Safety and Health Administration records shows that MCM has been cited for 11 safety violations, three of them "serious," between 2014 to 2017, according to the federal agency. The fines totaling more than $50,000 arose from complaints about unsafe trenches, cement dust and other problems at its Florida work sites.

    And just last week, a Transportation Security Administration employee filed a lawsuit accusing the company of "shoddy work" after MCM allegedly placed a makeshift bridge at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that collapsed under his weight. Jose Perez said in court documents he sustained significant injuries in the October 2016 incident.

    The lawsuit alleges that MCM "failed to utilize reasonable care in the design, planning, inspection and maintenance" of the make-shift bridge, adding it employed "incompetent, inexperienced, unskilled, or careless employees." The makeshift bridge was inside a construction site not accessible to the general public, according to the lawsuit.

    In a statement, MCM said the incident is being mischaracterized and that the "makeshift bridge" referenced in the lawsuit was a piece of plywood.

    "We want to make it clear that there is no bridge, or temporary bridge, at this project," MCM wrote. "This was simply a trip and fall accident that occurred on the ground floor involving a piece of plywood that was covering a sidewalk under construction."


    Photo credit: MCM

    MCM was awarded the $128 million expansion of Terminal 4 at Fort Lauderdale airport in October 2015. A month later, the company announced in a news release it had secured the FIU pedestrian bridge project in partnership with FIGG Bridge Engineers, a Tallahassee firm that designed the structure.

    After Thursday’s deadly collapse FIGG said in a statement, "In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before."

    But FIGG was fined in 2012 after a 90-ton section of a bridge it was building in Virginia crashed onto railroad tracks below, injuring four workers. A citation from the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry said FIGG did not properly inspect a girder and had not obtained written consent from its manufacturer before modifying it, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The newspaper reported the state fined FIGG $28,000.

    The firm is behind two iconic Florida landmarks: the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay and the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys.

    When the aging Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145, FIGG was chosen to design the replacement. The original structure was designed by Sverdrup & Parcel in the 1960s.

    Additionally, NASA contracted FIGG to repair an unspecified number of bridges at both the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in September 2011, the Miami Herald reported.

    The pedestrian bridge at FIU was the first joint venture for MCM and FIGG. 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 created a showpiece architectural feature connecting the FIU campus and the community of Sweetwater, where many students live.

    As state and federal investigators worked to determine why the span collapsed, authorities said Friday that cables supporting the bridge under construction were being tightened following a “stress test” when it collapsed.

    "This is a tragedy that we don't want to re-occur anywhere in the United States," said Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade police. "We just want to find out what caused this collapse to occur and people to die."

    The Associated Press contributed to this article.