Have you ever experienced a situation where just because you work in a specific field that people think you know everything about it? After the pedestrian bridge in Florida collapsed back in March, I have received the question of what happened to it numerous times. Family, friends, and people I’m just meeting for the first time have asked why it collapsed and act like I should know what happened to it since I work in the Civil Engineering field but in reality, I don’t work with bridges at all and have no idea what happened to it, so I decided to do some digging.
One of the first issues was that the project was behind schedule and over budget (wait, aren’t all projects?). In addition, the engineers were asked to move the signature pylon of the bridge to accommodate for possible future road expansion, changing their design (below image shows a rendering of the final design). Videos that captured the incident show that part of a prefabricated segment of the bridge started crumbling on the same end where the pylon redesign was to be located. The pylon was to be installed later into the project with each prefabricated section being able to withstand all the forces they would experience before completion of the project. An engineer had reported cracks in the same location where the bridge failed two days prior and stress testing was being conducted the day of the collapse. There was even a meeting the same day in which engineers and state officials discussed whether the cracks in the structure presented a safety risk.
Some engineers involved in trying to find the reason behind this collapse have said that any slight modification to a bridge design is inviting possibilities for failures. The same care and attention that the original design had does not always continue once a change is proposed and designed for. The proposed design change put the engineering team further behind schedule and over budget. This project was being federally funded and the engineering team was worried that funding might run out before they could complete it causing them to further try to speed up their designs.
Engineers and other officials are still looking into the exact cause of the bridge’s collapse while FDOT and the engineering team responsible have been hush-hush for the most part. Although all projects are different, a valuable lesson can be learned from this. Time and money are always key driving factors for projects, but they should never be able to dictate the final design. It may take some more time and money, which leads to unhappy clients, but sometimes that is what is needed for a successful project.