Florida DOT fighting to keep FIU bridge collapse records under wraps
- Leon County (Florida) Circuit Court Judge John Cooper on Monday refused a Florida Department of Transportation request to dismiss a Miami Herald lawsuit demanding the agency release records pertaining to the deadly March pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University in Miami, the Miami Herald reported. Cooper will rule in two weeks as to whether the Herald is entitled to review those records.
- The newspaper filed the lawsuit two months after first asking transportation officials for copies of emails, meeting minutes and other documents that could give insight as to the bridge's design, construction and installation. FDOT and the National Transportation Board have refused to hand over paperwork dated Feb. 19 or later related to the case, maintaining that federal law allows them to keep documents that the NTSB gathered private while the investigation is pending.
- Attorneys for the Herald have argued that only documents created as a result of the NTSB investigation are protected by federal law, not those generated during construction, design or any other activity prior to the collapse. Cooper gave the federal agency the opportunity to defend itself in his court before he makes his final decision.
In May, the Miami Herald reported that it had secured documents through a records request to FIU indicating that some project team members had seen cracks in the bridge two weeks before the collapse. The Herald said that FIU had unintentionally released photographs and an internal email that reportedly showed project officials detected cracks at the base of a diagonal support member on Feb. 28, which was 10 days before installation, and then again 15 days before the bridge fell. The cracks were supposedly located where the bridge failed.
The Herald shared those documents with independent engineers, who came to a wide variety of conclusions, such as that the bridge needed a complete redesign; that the discovery of cracks should have stopped construction pending a thorough review; or that the photos indicated only minor remediation was necessary. No one said they could offer an idea for a sure remedy because the NTSB investigation could yield new information.
Some have called Accelerated Bridge Construction techniques into question since the collapse, as that was the method used in building and installing the FIU bridge. With ABC, a bridge is built offsite in order to reduce the traffic congestion that usually accompanies onsite construction and then installed in as little as a few days. The method has been touted as a way to increase both worker and public safety.
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