Crews begin repairing Florida bridge damaged by Navy ship

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 10/2/2013

A hired bridge contractor began work Wednesday, Oct. 2, to fix a Jacksonville, Fla., bridge that was struck by a Navy ship last week. The ship was being towed along the St. Johns River when a raised ramp on the vessel struck a steel beam on the underside of the Mathews Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation says the final price tag could reach $3 million, which includes the financial incentives offered to Superior Construction Co. to finish the work within 40 days.

Crews will start by making temporary repairs from below to make the bridge safe for heavier construction vehicles, FDOT spokesman Mike Goldman says.

“The potential weight and balance is so significant that if you have heavy construction equipment on the bridge now, it could potentially damage the bridge worse than it is,” Goldman told Land Line.

The Mathews Bridge carries U.S. Route 90 over the St. Johns River. Goldman said commercial trucks make up approximately 1.1 percent of the bridge traffic, which amounts to 620 trucks per day compared with nearly 56,000 other vehicle types.

Tugboats were towing the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin to a shipyard when a vehicle ramp in the upright position struck and severed the bridge beam.

“This is about 150 feet up in the air, so this was a big Navy ship,” FDOT spokeswoman Gina Busscher told “Land Line Now” on Monday. “What’s so amazing about it is that it did hit the underside of a bridge that is about 150 feet up in the air from the water level.”

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident. Some media reports point to higher water levels than normal, while some point fingers at poor route planning for such a large vessel.

FDOT has provided detour information. The agency suggests that traffic take the Isaiah David Hart Bridge, also known as the Hart Bridge, which carries U.S. Route 1 Alternate and Florida State Road 228 over the St. Johns River.

Traffic can also use the Dames Point Bridge that carries Interstate 235 East Beltway.

“Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this story.

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