Report: Experts knew of Italian bridge weakening months before collapse
- Based on information from Italian language news magazine L'Espresso, the Associated Press is reporting that engineering and design experts told Genoa, Italy, public works officials in February that corroded metal cables on the Morandi Bridge had reduced its strength by 20%. This was months before the structure's deadly collapse on Aug. 14. The number of fatalities has risen to 43, according to The Washington Post.
- Despite the reported alert, neither transportation officials nor the company in charge of maintaining much of Italy's transportation infrastructure, Autostrade per l'Italia, moved to limit traffic or otherwise reduce stress to the bridge. Former Transport Minister Graziano Delrio told members of the media on Aug. 20 that no one ever suggested to the ministry that the amount of bridge traffic be restricted. Even so, officials were scheduled to wrap up the bidding process next month on a 20 million euro (U.S. $22.8 million) contract to reinforce the two major bridge supports, including the one that failed.
- The accident has spurred some Italian officials to demand the termination of Autostrade's infrastructure maintenance contracts — a move that would cost Italy between approximately U.S. $17.5 billion and $21 billion — and nationalize highway maintenance and construction. Meanwhile, Autostrade CEO Giovanni Castellucci said the company is planning to demolish what remains of the Morandi and build a replacement in eight months.
While Italian officials are investigating the cause of the collapse, some have also suggested that poor maintenance led to the incident. However, ANSA General News reported that Autostrade, in 2011, made an assessment of the Morandi Bridge and said that "queues of cars and the volume of traffic provoke intense decay of the Morandi viaduct structure on a daily basis in the rush hours as it is subject to major demands."
When infrastructure assets in the U.S. fail and there are deaths involved, contractors, designers, engineers and any other party to construction and maintenance are usually drawn into the subsequent investigations. This makes it all the more important for contractors to maintain detailed and accurate records of meetings, daily work schedules and any other records that can assist in the investigation and, perhaps just as important, prove that all work was done in accordance with the project's specifications.
Eleven years ago this month, a portion of Interstate 35W in Minneapolis collapsed over the Mississippi River, killing 13 and injuring 145 others. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the bridge design was at fault, a flaw made worse by the weight of 300 tons of repair materials stockpiled near the bridge's failure point.
In Miami, the NTSB is in the midst of its investigation into the March collapse of a then-newly-installed pedestrian bridge on the Florida International University campus. So far, the agency has not identified a cause of the accident, which killed six and injured several others, but recently released an interim report with post-installation photos of the bridge that showed significant cracking near the areas where the structure failed.
- Associated Press Report: Experts knew Genoa bridge had weakened 20 percent
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