Structural engineers weigh in on bridge collapse in Miami

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Emergency personnel respond to a collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University on Thursday, March 15, 2018, in the Miami area. The brand-new pedestrian bridge collapsed onto a highway crushing several vehicles. (Roberto Koltun/Miami Herald via AP)

Images from the horrific pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami are flooding the internet.

Officials say 950 tons of cement crushed unsuspecting drivers as they sat for a red light on a street near FIU Thursday. First responders are still frantically searching for signs of life in the rubble.

It’s also something making many drivers hold their breath each time they get near an overpass.

“And how many times a day do you go under or over a bridge? It’s traumatic, it’s anxiety-ridden. Every day something like that can happen and you have no idea,” said Sanibel resident Megan DeRunge.

But even though the images out of Miami may be anxiety-provoking, experts say there’s no need to panic every time you use a bridge.

Bob Rude is a structural engineer and a former bridge inspector.

“I don’t think it’s something that could happen all the time necessarily. As with any construction project, there are hazards on a construction site that need to be appropriately addressed,” Rude said.

The engineering company behind the bridge called the tragedy an “unprecedented event.” They also argued none if its other 230 bridges have ever collapsed before.

But some are criticizing the company’s methods, including performing a stress test when traffic was already flowing.

“The big red flag is why was somebody conducting a test. Because the name test in and of itself implies that there may be some sort of failure. So my big question is why was there a test done when they were allowing traffic, and pedestrians and the public to go under this bridge?” said Reg Batista, an engineer with G. Batista and Associates.

Experts caution more facts are needed before blame is assigned.

“It’s not fair to say that someone dropped the ball necessarily at this stage. What is fair to say is that it needs to be appropriately evaluated so that it can be determined what happened, what went wrong,” Rude said.

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Bureau and the Federal Highway Authority have already begun investigating the deadly bridge collapse. They say it could be months before they know a cause.

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