Engineers saw cracks in Miami bridge days before collapse

Phil McCausland and Craig Stanley

Engineers working on the bridge that fell on to a Florida highway Thursday had attempted to warn state officials about cracks on the walkway just two days before the deadly collapse, according to a voicemail transcript released Friday night by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The lead engineer of FIGG Bridge Engineers, the company that led the design of the walkway, left a voicemail with FDOT that said cracks had appeared on the bridge and were in need of repair.

FDOT published the transcript of the message late on Friday.

"From a safety perspective we don't see that there's any issue there, so we're not concerned about it from that perspective," the transcript reads, "although obviously the cracking is not good and something's going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that."

The state employee who the message was intended for never received it because he "was out of office on assignment," the agency said. The employee "was able to listen to the voicemail" on Friday.

An FDOT consultant also attended a midday meeting on Thursday "shortly before" the bridge's 1:30 p.m. collapse, but he was "not notified of any life-safety issues, need for additional road closures or request for any other assistance from FDOT," the agency said.

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Related: Why did Miami bridge collapse? More than one reason likely

Engineers also had a permit that allowed them to close the road under the bridge, the Tamiami Trail, but FDOT said the design team never made the request.

Dick Kane, communications director for FDOT, said that the state agency was not culpable for the possible oversight.

"The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design build team," Kane said in the FDOT's statement. "At no point during any of the communications above did FIGG or any member of the FIU design build team ever communicate a life-safety issue."

A representative for FIGG did not have an immediate response to calls for comment.

Related: First victim of Florida bridge collapse identified as FIU student Alexa Duran

National Transportation Safety Board Chief Investigator Robert Accetta said at a news conference Friday night that it was too early to conclude whether the cracks were related to the incident.

"I would have to say that a crack in the bridge does not necessarily mean it's unsafe," he said, though NTSB investigators made it clear that they had not confirmed whether there were cracks. "That's still too early in the investigation for us to determine."

The bridge section that collapsed was designed to hold its own weight until the entire span is assembled into place, experts told NBC News. It was built under a method called accelerated bridge construction, which FIU helped to popularize beginning in 2010 but has been around in some form for about 30 years.

With accelerated bridge construction, prefabricated bridge elements are made in a factory, then shipped to the site and put together at the scene.