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Newspaper, FDOT Spar Over FIU Bridge Records

Monday, June 11, 2018

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The Miami Herald has sued for the release of records related to the deadly collapse in March of a pedestrian bridge on the campus of Florida International University, and the Florida Department of Transportation is fighting to block the release of the documents.

NTSB investigation at FIU bridge collapse site
Images: National Transportation Safety Board

FDOT will not release documents related to the construction of the pedestrian bridge that collapsed on the campus of Florida International University because the NTSB has blocked their publication.

According to the Herald, the newspaper sued in early May after two months of attempts to access documents related to the collapse, and last Monday (June 4), FDOT asked a County Circuit Court judge to dismiss the suit. The newspaper says the agency has acknowledged that the records fall under the state’s open-records law, but FDOT argues that their pertinence to the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation means they cannot be released publicly.

Pre-Incident Documents

The documents in question are records related to the bridge from after Feb. 19; the bridge was constructed using Accelerated Bridge Construction methods and slid into place March 10. Engineers reportedly noticed cracks in the concrete even before the installation, and the NTSB has said its investigation is focusing on those cracks as the agency works to determine the root cause of the incident.

The NTSB has authorized the release of documents from prior to Feb. 19. The first cracks were reportedly discovered March 13 by an engineer with FIGG, the bridge’s designer, but the NTSB said in a preliminary report on the matter that evidence of possible cracking has been found in photographic evidence from as early as Feb. 24, weeks before the bridge was completed.

FIU collapse

The bridge collapsed during post-tensioning on March 15, killing five civilians and one employee of subcontractor VSL.

While an NTSB attorney filed a letter supporting FDOT’s argument that the documents being requested are part of the federal investigation and therefore cannot be released, the Herald argues that only documents from after the collapse—not documents from the construction and installation of the bridge, predating the incident—are subject to that rule.

The Herald’s attorney argued that, under Florida’s notably broad public-records laws, the documents being requested were always public, and if they had been requested prior to the collapse, they would have been furnished. The NTSB, the newspaper argues, is unduly interfering with the state’s duty to fulfill its records requests.

The Collapse

While the bridge was funded and overseen by FIU, the state was involved in the planning of the span, which was built over U.S. Route 41 in the Miami Suburb of University Park. The bridge collapsed during post-tensioning on March 15, killing five civilians and one employee of subcontractor VSL.

FIU is home to the Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center, a multi-university center promoting ABC techniques. The pedestrian bridge was touted as an example of innovative design and construction meant to limit road closures and inconvenience stemming from the otherwise lengthy bridge construction process.


Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Accidents; Bridges; Health & Safety; NA; North America; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Safety

Comment from Chuck Nizzi, (6/16/2018, 9:33 PM)

Who are they trying to protect by withholding the public records?

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