JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thursday morning’s sudden shutdown of the Buckman Bridge during the heart of rush hour raised some questions about the safety of the bridge’s overall structure.
At a minimum, the bridge has to be inspected once every two years, and the News4Jax I-TEAM found that the Buckman’s last inspections show a high health rating.
The I-TEAM obtained portions of the inspection reports of the Buckman Bridge dating back to 2017.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the bridge was last inspected in February 2020. FDOT told News4Jax that the February 2020 inspection was not routine and isolated. Records from FDOT show the bridge also underwent routine inspections in April 2017 and April 2019.
For the health index score measuring the overall condition of the bridge, inspectors scored the Buckman a 96 out of 100 in 2020. According to FDOT, anything less than an 85 would mean repairs are needed. State officials would only release basic information from the inspection report -- not any detailed findings --- citing Homeland Security reasons.
Federal records of the bridge’s inspection from 2019 found the bridge was in “fair” condition -- meaning all primary structural elements are sound, but the bridge may have minor section loss, cracking, spalling or scour.
According to FDOT, the closure Thursday was prompted by damage to a finger joint on the bridge, which was temporarily repaired with metal plates to allow the bridge to be reopened to traffic.
“We’ve had this issue in bridges in the Tampa Bay area in the past and our crews were able to repair them fairly quickly,” said Kathleen Ruvarac, vice president of the Florida Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “They were thorough, and they replaced the entire joint, so that would be all of the travel lanes.”
The Buckman Bridge, which is steel construction with a concrete deck was built in 1970 and reconstructed in 1995. It’s roughly 3.1 miles long and 68 feet across on each side.
The National Bridge Inventory of 2020 said that based on 2018 data, the average daily traffic in each direction was 69,500 vehicles. The feds predict that to increase by nearly 75% by 2040 to an average of 120,582 cars in each direction each day.
As of 2018, truck traffic made up 14% of the overall traffic each day on average.
More recent data from FDOT in February 2020 showed traffic had already increased to 81,500 vehicles a day in each direction.