Drawbridge to Close, Blocking River Users
10 days needed to repair cracked bolts in 76 Yr Old Drawbridge

Repairs to Ancient & Crumbling Eyesore Railroad Bridge to BLOCK Vital St Johns River Recreational & Commercial Marine Traffic
(Will the They EVER Build a Modern Non-Obstructive Railroad Bridge?)

 

The 76 year old Florida East Coast Railroad bridge over the St. Johns River will close April 22, blocking travel for some boaters, to allow bridge repairs. -- Bob Self/staff

By David Bauerlein
Times-Union staff writer

The Florida East Coast Railroad will "lock down" the drawbridge for the railroad's St. Johns River crossing near downtown Jacksonville this month and keep it shut for 10 days over a 12-day period.

Recreational boaters and commercial barges won't be able to get past the bridge, which runs alongside the Acosta Bridge, during the closure. The railroad will replace huge cracked bolts -- measuring 5 feet long and 3 inches in diameter -- by working 24 hours a day.

The Coast Guard will require the work to stop on the weekend, allowing the bridge to reopen when recreational boaters are most active. The weekend break also will let barges make trips up and down the river.

The schedule approved this week by the Coast Guard will let the railroad close the bridge from 12:01 a.m. April 22 to 6 p.m. April 26, which is a Friday. The bridge would then reopen over the weekend. The railroad would be able to shut it down again at 12:01 a.m. April 29 through 6 p.m. May 3.

"It's a project that has to be done," said James Bailey, a member of the Jacksonville Waterways Commission, who participated in talks that resulted in the schedule. "We really don't have a choice. I feel like we're lucky the FEC is being accommodating to let the bridge open up on the weekend."

Florida East Coast Railroad notified the Coast Guard April 3 about the need to do "emergency repairs" on the bridge after an inspection found problems in counterweight trunnions, which enable the drawbridge to pivot when it opens and closes.

The railroad originally asked to close the drawbridge 10 straight days, said Barry Dragon, chief of bridge operations for the Coast Guard's regional office in Miami. The railroad subsequently agreed to reopen the bridge mid-way through the repairs. In addition, the railroad said it would put off less urgent repairs, which would have required another closure in a couple of months for an eight-day stretch.

The railroad will wait until after hurricane season ends this year to do the second phase of repairs.

"Everybody has a stake in this, so I think it's reasonable," Dragon said.

For commercial marine traffic, the closure will affect companies that operate along the St. Johns River south of downtown Jacksonville and use the river to ship goods and equipment. They will have to rearrange their schedules.

"There's only one way in and one way out," said John Brown, manager of the Clay County Port in Green Cove Springs.

Paul Westcott, safety coordinator for MOBRO Marine Inc. in Green Cove Springs, said he doesn't have much confidence the work will end by May 3 because such repairs often find other problems after work starts.

"Our fear is that's exactly what will happen," he said.

The Coast Guard schedule will require the bridge to remain open on weekends if the work goes past May 3. The weekend openings will enable oil-carrying barges to make deliveries to the Florida Power and Light plant in Sanford and the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Palatka.

"We're going to have zero impact," said Georgia-Pacific spokesman Robert Burns.

1926 RR Drawbridge Has History of Headaches for Greater Jacksonville Area
Sunday, December 10, 2000

Story last updated at 7:35 p.m. on Saturday, December 9, 2000

Coast Guard threatens action on St. Johns bridge
 

After more than two decades of controversy, boaters on the St. Johns River may be about to get some relief concerning the closings of the Florida East Coast Railroad bridge in downtown Jacksonville.

At least, those are the indications in a report Thursday by an official of the Bridge Management Program at Coast Guard Seventh District Headquarters in Miami before the Jacksonville Waterways Commission.

"If they [the FEC RR] don't operate the bridge according to regulations, we're going to come up with a resolution of this problem, or at least some relief for responsible navigation," said Brodie Rich, speaking for Capt. Greg Shapley, director of the Seventh District's Bridge Management Program.

The railway bridge, which was completed in 1926, has been a source of contention between boaters and commercial vessel operators for years. The mariners contend that the span, a single-leaf bascule bridge with a maximum closed clearence of 5 feet, regularly remains closed for long periods of time, sometimes as long as 10 hours, closing down the river to north and southbound marine traffic, including city and state emergency craft.

Rich pointed out that the Coast Guard regulation under which the railroad operated the bridge required that the opening span not be down for more than eight minutes when a train isn't crossing it. The bridge also can't be closed until eight minutes after the warning siren sounds and the "Bridge Coming Down" lighted sign comes on.

He said the Coast Guard sent an inspector from Miami to Jacksonville to monitor the bridge's closings on Dec. 1-4.

"The shortest period of time the bridge was closed was 18 minutes, the longest 46 minutes," Rich told the commission. "At no point was the bridge closed [only for] the required eight minutes."

He said it was obvious that navigators " . . .were suffering long delays . . . " and pointed out that the funnel effect in that part of the river, the narrowest section of the lower St. Johns, created extremely hazardous currents that especially endanger commercial vessels in the area.

Commissioner Carter Bryan, who heads a JWC subcommittee that has been dealing with the FEC on the matter for two years, said that during the Florida-Georgia game two months ago, as many as 50 boats were bottled up west of the bridge, between the Acosta and Fuller Warren bridges.

"The FEC has been blatantly violating regulations and laws for years," Bryan said.

Rich said the Coast Guard has the power to impose civil penalties, including stiff fines, if it finds the railroad in violation of regulations and no remedial steps are taken.

The Coast Guard official said the Seventh District would be talking with the FEC and would be examining the issue over the next several months.

"There are things that can be done," he said. "We want to do something about unreasonable delays in bridge openings. I expect to appear before you again in March [the JWC meeting that month is scheduled for March 1] with a follow-up to report to you what we expect to do."

In other action, the commission approved the appointments of a newcomer and a former member to fill two vacancies created by a City Council ordinance passed last month expanding the body from 11 to 13 full-time members. Steve Busey, a prominent Jacksonville attorney and long-time boater, and former JWC member and chairman Jim Tullis, were approved unanimously and their names will be sent to the City Council for confirmation at this Tuesday's meeting.

Tullis was chairman of the body for almost a decade as a member of the City Council. When he moved to the Legislature two years ago, he became the Duval Delegation representative on the JWC. He lost his seat when he was defeated in his legislative re-election bid in last November's election.

City Councilman Doyle Carter (R-Westside) has been appointed to the newly created alternate City-Council seat on the commission, which includes two full-time Council members, chairwoman Lynette Self and Faye Rustin.

There are still three positions to be filled, one of which will go to a designated legislative representative to take Tullis' former seat. The other two vacancies were created by the resignation of former members Gary Brazel, and last week, of Vickie Bridges. Those may be filled at the next JWC meeting, scheduled for Jan. 4.