Death-trap bridge funded by ‘shoddy’ Obama program

By Art Moore

A concrete pedestrian bridge near Florida International University in Miami fell on to an eight-lane motorway on Thursday, killing at least six people.
A concrete pedestrian bridge near Florida International University in Miami fell on to an eight-lane motorway on Thursday, killing at least six people.

It didn’t take long for the horrific, deadly collapse Thursday of a newly installed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University’s Miami-Dade campus to become politicized.

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While it’s too early to determine the precise causes of the tragic accident, which killed at least six people, Reason magazine assistant editor Christian Britschgi points out in a column Friday that, if anything, President Obama’s fingerprints are on it.

Installed only last Saturday, the bridge, he writes, was funded with $11.4 million from a federal grant program that has been criticized for a shoddy review process that puts politics ahead of technical and safety concerns.

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The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER program, was created as an economic stimulus measure under Obama and morphed into a permanent program, wrote Britschgi.

The program has awarded $5.6 billion in nine rounds of grants since 2009.

Florida International University received the money for the bridge in round five, or TIGER V, in 2013. It was among 52 projects that used a methodology that later was criticized by the Government Accountability Office for violating U.S. Department of Transportation standards.

The bridge was installed using a new method called “accelerated bridge construction,” or ABC, which was meant to minimize traffic delays and risk to workers.

At the time of its installation Saturday, FIU’s Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center boasted of the new project and the method of construction.

“This project is an outstanding example of the ABC method,” said Atorod Azizinamini, the center’s director, in a press release.

FIU CFO Kenneth Jessell said the bridge “is the result of great support from our congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Transportation.”

“FIU and our surrounding community will benefit from this project for generations to come,” he said.

Reason pointed out that DOT staff are required to evaluate all applications to the TIGER program according to “desired long-term transportation outcomes,” including economic competitiveness, state of good repair, livability, environmental sustainability and safety.

Each project is assigned a rating that ranges from acceptable to highly recommended.

A GAO report in 2014 sharply criticized how DOT handled the TIGER V grants, saying DOT advanced projects with lower technical ratings and upgraded the technical rating of 19 projects from acceptable or recommended to highly recommended without documenting a justification.

Reason’s Britschgi acknowledged that it’s unclear from the GAO report whether the FIU bridge project was advanced over more qualified projects, because the report does not provide details of each project.

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation praised the TIGER award to FIU.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said: “More jobs will be created in our community thanks to this grant, and I look forward to celebrating the project’s success with everyone in South Florida.”

After the collapse Thursday, Mark Rosenberg, the president of FIU, said he had not spoken directly with the company that constructed the bridge, Munilla Construction, but he was “satisfied that the testing that was occurring was consistent with best practices.”

“I’m not an engineer, so I’m not privy to those details. I know that tests occurred today,” he said. “And I know, I believe, that they did not prove to lead anyone to the conclusion that we would have this kind of a result.”


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