JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's been nearly three weeks since the Mathews Bridge was hit by a ship, forcing it closed to traffic, and many are wondering when it will reopen and relieve a big traffic mess in Jacksonville.
At a town hall meeting Tuesday night at Jacksonville University, Florida Department of Transportation officials their goal is still to get it open before the Florida-Georgia football game on Nov. 2, but officials still do not have a set date for the bridge to reopen.
"As you can see through this picture, it shows Mathews is the gateway to Jacksonville, and the stadium and the Jaguars and all our entertainment facilities, and downtown, it's a vital artery to our city," said District Construction Engineer Carrie Standbridge. "We immediately went through a limited bridge inspection -- recognized that when we got out there, we didn't know what we were going to encounter. So, we sent a limited team up there, that consisted of climbers and engineers and our climbers are engineers by the way."
As for opening up the bridge for one-way traffic sooner than that, officials are not sure yet if that can happen.
"Until the department is convinced the bridge is safe, we're not gonna put any traffic on there," said Standbridge. "So right now, one of our obstacles is to get construction equipment on there. That's our first loading obstacle. Once we achieve that, than we'll look at the next phase, which would be to open two eastbound lanes of traffic. We're nowhere close yet, we still have a ways to go with stabilizing this bridge and making sure it's doing what we want it to do."
While the bridge remains closed, City Councilman John Crescimbeni pointed out Tuesday night that the empty bridge is costing Jacksonville.
"It'll probably cost the city. The local government is out of pocket, considerably, I mean you've probably seen the police officers manning intersections," said Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni.
State Sen. Audrey Gibson, who called the public meeting with the FDOT wanted those who rely on the bridge to hear firsthand from a transportation engineer at the meeting.
"Many lives are being impacted," Gibson said. "People spend extra money for gas. They get home later and dinner later. So I want to be sure where we are in the process."
Those who live in Arlington are wondering the same thing. Ron Ferreira said it not only cost more in gas driving out of the way, but also sitting idle in traffic is testing his patience.
"People are under stress anyway, and it's made some of the people a whole lot nastier than they used to be," Ferreira said.
An FDOT spokesman said officials are still investigating the problems with the bridge.
Area businesses hope it reopens soon, saying they are seeing the effects in a number of ways.
"During the mornings and the afternoon, drive times, JTA buses have a route that goes over the Mathews Bridge. Now, they have to take a different route so they're incurring additional costs. The city's incurring additional police officer costs, manning these intersections, school buses -- same thing," said Crescimbeni. "There's a lot of additional cost the taxpayer's going to incur, the local taxpayer, the local government's gonna incur because of this, disruption. When this originally happened, I had a conversation with our general council's office, and suggested that, you know, we have a conversation with the offending party, and I know that that conversation has occurred, their council and our general council were in line to seek some general reimbursement."
Steve Thompson, who owns a dry cleaner in Arlington, has watched as his flow of work changed by the lack of traffic.
"The first few days after the accident we did see a reduction in business, and since that time it's really affected the flow of work more than anything else because people don't have time to drop clothes off on their way to work," said Thompson, of Sand Dollar Cleaners. "So now they are bringing their clothes in later."
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