FDOT Revises Timeline on Warning of Cracks in FIU Bridge

The Florida Department of Transportation Thursday changed its timeline in the Florida International University bridge collapse.

It previously claimed a state bridge engineer — who did not listen to a days-old voicemail alerting him to cracks in the bridge until the day after the collapse — was “out of the office on assignment” on the day of the failure. 

The agency now says Thomas Andres was in the office on the day of the collapse, though it still says he did not listen to the voicemail until the day after. 

The change in FDOT’s timeline comes more than two weeks after the NBC 6 Investigators requested calendars and timesheets that could help pinpoint exactly what Andres was doing during the days he says the voicemail sat in his FDOT phone system without being listened to. 

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FDOT has not revised its statement that Andres first listened to the voicemail from the engineer of record on the project, Denney Pate of FIGG Bridge Engineers, on Friday, March 16 – the day after the pedestrian bridge collapsed onto Eighth Street, killing one worker and five people in vehicles below. 

In the message, which FDOT said was left on Tuesday, March 13, Pate stated there was “cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span,” the area that would fail two days later. “Obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done, 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, although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.” 

NBC 6 has now requested any record that could reveal the exact time the voicemail was played back for the first time. 

Andres’ calendar reflects he was in Pensacola on a site visit for the two days prior to the collapse, and that he returned to the office on Thursday, March 15.

The bridge collapsed at 1:47 p.m. that day, but the calendar and time sheet do not state exactly when Andres returned to his office in Tallahassee. 

Previously, FDOT stated the “voicemail was left on a landline and not heard by an FDOT employee until Friday, March 16 as the employee was out of the office on assignment. When the employee returned to his office (on) Friday, March 16, he was able to listen to the voicemail.” 

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But FDOT now says he returned Thursday, March 15, the day the bridge collapsed. 

In response to questions from NBC 6, FDOT spokesman Tom Yu Thursday wrote that Andres “worked in office and responded to bridge collapse inquiries” on March 15. He has not yet answered a follow-up question: What was the exact time Andres arrived for work that day? 

The latest development comes less than a week after NBC 6 first reported evidence showing FDOT was more involved in overseeing the FIU bridge design and construction than it said in a statement in the hours after the failure. 

Gov. Rick Scott’s office sent out an FDOT “fact sheet” within six hours of the collapse stating FDOT’s role in the design was limited to “conducting a routine preliminary review to ensure this project complied with the terms of the agreement with the state.” 

In fact, emails and other records uncovered by NBC 6, reveal Andres expressed concerns about the design – and the potential for cracking – in March 2016 and continued offering comments or accepting revisions to the plans through at least as late as September 2017. FIGG made some modifications to address Andres’ concerns. 

But so far, no record has emerged to show subsequent plans addressed Andres’ concerns about the inset for a drain pipe that would have run along the bottom center of the walkway. Andres in March 2016 said it would “likely create a weak point which will be a crack initiation point.” 

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Three months later, FIGG said the area Andres was concerned about was a “compression zone” and that “cracking is not expected to initiate from zones of compression.” An engineer who reviewed the latest publicly available drawings for NBC 6 said he did not see any changes to the drain pipe design, though it’s possible other revisions could have addressed Andres’ concerns.