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Florida suspends $5.5 million in federal funds for FIU bridge after collapse

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@elizabethrkoh

Gov. Rick Scott said Monday the Florida Department of Transportation will suspend all remaining federal payments — about $5.5 million — for work on the collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University.

The collapse, which killed six when the bridge crashed onto traffic passing underneath, happened just days after the span had been installed over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami.

“Before another dollar is spent on this bridge, we must know exactly what happened,” Scott said in a statement. “FDOT is working hand-in-hand with the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] in its investigation and until this is completed, all taxpayer dollars will be withheld.”

Of the bridge’s nearly $16.6 million price tag, more than $13.6 million was supposed to come from federal funding, which passes through FDOT to FIU, officials said. Only $57,000 of the bridge’s cost — already spent — came from state funding, and the project called for another $2.9 million from local funds. The governor’s order does not apply to the local funds.

The Department of Financial Services said $8.1 million in federal and state funds had been paid since the project began.

At least $5.46 million had been paid to Munilla Construction Management, which was building the bridge, by early February, according to project meeting minutes released by the city of Sweetwater.

FDOT, which is led by an appointee of Scott’s, and the university have feuded publicly after the state agency moved quickly to distance itself from the project, even though documents show the agency helped approve the design-build team, attended regular team meetings, consulted on construction details and even attended a meeting on the bridge’s progress hours before it collapsed.

FDOT issued a statement shortly after the tragedy saying the bridge was a local project and that FDOT was responsible only for traffic-control permits, serving as a “pass-through” for funding and authorizing the use of the space above the state road where the bridge was installed.

“It’s not an FDOT project. It’s an FIU project,” Scott said that evening at a press conference. “There will clearly be an investigation to find out exactly what happened, and why this happened. We will hold anybody accountable if anybody has done anything wrong.”

The following night, the agency also issued a statement saying it had no idea that “stress tests” were being conducted — which might have required permits for closing the road — and that an engineer for FIGG, the contractor that engineered and designed the span, had discovered cracks in the northern part of the bridge and left a voicemail with FDOT reporting it. The agency participated in a meeting with FIU that Thursday, though it did not say if the cracks were discussed, and that the engineer’s voicemail — which said there were no safety issues — was not heard until after the collapse.

Over the weekend, FIU said the cracks were the subject of the two-hour Thursday meeting with FDOT, in which a FIGG engineer “concluded that there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” according to a statement. FDOT then responded by saying its consultant who attended was acting in an administrative capacity only to ensure that the project was on time and still qualified for federal funds.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg defended the university’s actions Monday in a letter to the “university community,” saying: “We are confident that FIU followed all proper procedures and protocols.”

The university resumed classes Monday, though the road where the bridge collapsed remains closed until further notice.

This story has been updated. Miami Herald reporter Douglas Hanks contributed to this report. 

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