The Florida Department of Transportation must release public records that could shed light on a deadly bridge collapse outside Miami, a judge ruled Tuesday.
In an order, Leon County state court judge Kevin Carroll said the documents were public records under Florida law and could not be withheld, as FDOT argued, because of an ongoing federal investigation into the March 15 collapse of the Florida International University bridge. It’s not yet clear if FDOT will appeal.
The Miami Herald sued FDOT in May after the state agency refused to release documents related to the collapse, which killed six people. The documents sought by the Herald could help answer whether authorities considered closing the busy road that ran under the bridge after they discovered the span was developing alarming cracks — and if they did consider closure, whether somebody vetoed the idea.
A veil of government-mandated secrecy has surrounded the fatal accident. FDOT has said it could not release the records because of orders from the National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency investigating the collapse. The NTSB told FDOT not to release records dating from after Feb. 19, according to both agencies. FIU and the city of Sweetwater, which were also involved in the project, have similarly refused to release records, citing the NTSB’s instruction.
Shortly after the collapse of the under-construction bridge, FDOT gave the records sought by the Herald to NTSB investigators. In court, FDOT’s lawyers said that federal regulations prevented it from publicly releasing any information given to the NTSB, essentially trumping Florida’s broad public records law. The NTSB did not join the case, although federal lawyers filed a “statement of interest” saying the release of records could harm its investigation.
But Carroll shot down those arguments in his ruling Tuesday.
Read more at our news partner, the Miami Herald.