A federal judge recently blocked the release of documents that could reveal why the roadway under the Florida International University (FIU) pedestrian bridge had not been shut down upon discovery of severe cracking on the structure before it collapsed and killed six people, according to a report from the Miami Herald.
Judge William Stafford ruled that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the agency investigating the collapse, “was exercising its valid federal regulatory authority” in keeping the documents confidential from the media. Stafford’s decision overturns a previous ruling from a state court that would have released the records under Florida’s broad public records law. Stafford said the state court did not have proper jurisdiction to rule on the matter. His decision suggests federal jurisdiction over the accident preempts state law.
The documents in question include minutes and notes from a meeting held hours before the newly constructed pedestrian bridge fell down March 15. They are currently in the possession of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The Miami Herald requested FDOT release the records after the collapse, but the NTSB ordered the state not to share them, saying their publication could threaten the integrity of the investigation.
The meeting was held because significant cracks had developed in the span even before it was raised into place above Southwest Eighth Street. After the meeting, a construction crew began working on top of the bridge to tighten steel rods running through the span. Those workers were standing on the bridge when it came crashing down.
Without the release of the records pertaining to that meeting, answers to who decided the road should stay open during construction and why are not likely to come any time soon, as NTSB investigations can often take at least one year to conclude.