A Closer Look at “ABC”, Implications in Fatal FIU Bridge Collapse

Careless use of the bridge-making method known as Accelerated Bridge Construction, abbreviated as “ABC”, may have been to blame for the fatal FIU bridge collapse on March 15, 2018 that claimed the lives of six and injured numerous others, The Associated Press was able to confirm.

However, before implicating the technology itself, it’s important to understand the ABC’s behind “ABC” and the precedent set by its previous uses.

As NPR reported, the 174-foot, 950 ton structure had been lifted into place just five days prior to its collapse and the bridge-making method used boasted four previous successes in the Washington D.C. area alone.

Accelerated Bridge Construction, a commonality in other bridges of note

McLean, Virginia boasts The Dead Run and Turkey Run bridges along the George Washington Parkway. Maryland is home to the MD-450 Bridge just outside Annapolis and the Eastern Avenue Bridge at Kenilworth Avenue resides in Northeast Washington. All these bridges have one thing in common with the FIU Pedestrian Bridge, as its so far been dubbed in various news media. That commonality starts and stops at “ABC” or Accelerated Bridge Construction.

The technology was designed in large part to take the inconvenience out of pedestrian commuting during the construction process. As anyone whose encountered “construction traffic” at some point knows, it can drag out for months or even years depending on the scale of the project and the funding available.

“ABC” and “liability”: not mutually exclusive

It’s important to understand that the technology with which these bridges were all built is their only connection to one another. The four bridges that previously used this construction method did not employ the same builders, construction company, nor did they share any of the same engineers. The DMV-area bridges have all been listed as “successes” as per FIU’s ABC University Transportation Center.

It should also be noted as per WJLA that other bridges utilizing this technology were designed for heavy traffic, while the FIU Pedestrian Bridge was being constructed for just that: pedestrians.

Liability remains a hot button issue in this catastrophic event.

Previously successful method not entirely to blame, track record for four previous successes

It’s not inherently the bridge-making method that’s to blame, which is proven by the successes of the previously noted four bridges.

If not the bridge-making method, then what-or who-is to blame?

Liability falls on the lack of oversight under which the technology was employed and carried out from the top down. With proper attention to detail and parts manufactured under strict quality control standards like those used in the DMV-area structures before they ever get to the construction site, this was a catastrophe that could’ve been avoided, and lives could’ve been saved.

An overview of what could’ve gone wrong

NPR via The Miami Herald was able to confirm that the bridge’s central tower and suspension cables were “not yet installed”. This means that any cables that need be tightened were likely wires running through the span of the bridge.

Currently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are only just beginning to investigate the caused the massive structure to come crashing to the ground, claiming six lives.

Key points to be made about “ABC”, a shortlist

  • Those contracted for the construction of the FIU Pedestrian Bridge were building a pedestrian bridge; not a bridge meant to sustain heavy traffic
  • The engineers and construction crews involved in the building of the structure were concerned with a completion date of 2019, rather than investing time in the same quality control standards used in other bridges that utilized this method of construction
  • Those in power are now questioning whether it was considered wise to construct the span across a road without an adequate central support tower, or any central support tower at all for that matter
  • Witnesses have been able to convey that the bridge fell without warning during a red light near the Sweetwater, FLA. FIU campus
  • Pictures of the scene do not appear to show any evidence of a central tower

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