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Judge, NTSB Squabble Over FIU Collapse Records

Monday, August 27, 2018

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Over five months after the collapse of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, Leon County state court Judge Kevin Carroll ruled Tuesday (Aug. 21) that the Florida Department of Transportation must release the records associated with the tragedy.

Carroll went on to say that the documents were public records, and could not be withheld under Florida law, despite FDOT’s argument that the agency was under orders from the National Transportation Safety Board not to release the records. The NTSB is not a defendant in this case, however.

Bridge Collapse

While the bridge was funded and overseen by FIU, FDOT 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.

National Transportation Safety Board

Over five months after the collapse of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, Leon County state court Judge Kevin Carroll ruled Tuesday (Aug. 21) that the Florida Department of Transportation must release the records associated with the tragedy.

According to CNN, shortly after the span was installed, W. Denney Pate, an engineer with bridge firm FIGG, which was part of the design-construction team, noticed there was an issue—a crack had formed along the north side of the bridge, and repairs were needed.

In early May, the Miami Herald sued after two months of attempts to access documents related to the collapse, and in early June, FDOT asked a County Circuit Court judge to dismiss the suit. The newspaper said the agency acknowledged that the records fell under the state’s open-records law, but FDOT argued that their pertinence to the NTSB’s investigation means they could not be released publicly. Earlier this month, a preliminary report from the NSTB indicated that cracks found in the bridge a few days before it collapsed were much more extensive than originally thought.

Recent Ruling

Lawyers representing FDOT said that federal regulations prevented the agency from releasing any information given to the NTSB, which overrides Florida’s public records legislation. Yet Carroll dismissed these arguments, noting that the documents did not stop being public when they were handed over to the safety board.

“Simply put, under Florida law, it is clear that furnishing a document [which was a public record when it was made or created record] to an investigating agency would not alter its status as a public record and it would remain available for inspection,” Carroll said.

FDOT moved to review the ruling with the NTSB on Tuesday. As of Thursday (Aug. 23), U.S. District Court Judge William Stafford put a hold on the order, at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, which is representing the NTSB.

“We believe these records are public, and our position has been upheld by state court,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, the Herald’s executive editor. “We regret the U.S. Attorney’s Office move to delay their release.”

NTSB spokesperson Christopher O’Neil noted that the agency believed Carroll’s initial ruling impinged on its ability to interpret and apply regulations, going on to add that a federal court should stop FDOT from making the records public.

   

Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Government; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Program/Project Management

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