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Independent reviewers find that design defects contributed to Miami bridge collapse

Back in March, the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University claimed the lives of six people. The bridge was under construction at the time. We discussed how design defects likely contributed to the catastrophic failure.

As it turns out, that was indeed the case - at least according to several independent engineers who reviewed the collapse at the behest of the Miami Herald.

How a nontraditional design led to structural weakness

The bridge sported an unorthodox design that was meant to be more than just functional; it was meant to be a statement piece. The main supports were diagonal struts that spanned the deck in an uneven, zig-zagged pattern. Above the main deck, faux suspension cables (actually steel rods that didn't serve any structural purpose) connected to a 100-foot-tall pylon. These steel rods dictated the uneven placement of the diagonal struts. Put simply, the aesthetics drove the design.

The main culprit in the collapse appears to have been the diagonal strut at the north end of the bridge - particularly the joint where that strut was anchored to the deck. Designers overlooked the sheer amount of force placed on a single joint. Alarmingly, that joint was also the location of several cracks that appeared in the days leading up to the collapse.

At the time of the disaster, workers were tightening tension rods atop the bridge, which likely stressed that weak joint even further. The result? A chain reaction of structural failures with no redundancies to halt the collapse.

The complete breakdown still forthcoming

The reviewers noted that other factors - such as brittle materials or poor workmanship - may have also played a role. The official investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is still underway (and may take a year or two to complete).

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