Mathews Bridge has history of ordeals

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Mathews Bridge has decorated Jacksonville's skyline for 60 years, and a ship crashing into it is just one of the significant ordeals surrounding the historic landmark.

The bridge has a long history of events that caused shutdowns and major repairs.

It's been 60 years since the bridge first opened to traffic, marking the end of "Old Arlington" and connecting residents to downtown Jacksonville, who before then relied on the ferry to cross the St. Johns River.

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Now, it's used by more than 56,000 vehicles every day, and those and thousands of others are affected by the closure.

"It doesn't just impact those who live in Arlington, it's folks at the beach, Southside," city councilman Clay Yarborough said. "Some use it to commute through Arlington, the Regency area."

Several events have led to changes to the bridge over the years.

On Memorial Day weekend last year, Tropical Storm Beryl came barreling through with winds reaching nearly 100 mph. The bridge's platforms were blown off, so the Florida Department of Transportation strengthened them so they could withstand higher wind speeds.

"The unfortunate thing about it was that it did cause traffic congestions for several days, particularly on a Monday," FDOT spokesman Mike Goldman said.

In 2004, Donna Campbell was killed after she was thrown out of her Jeep and into the water. Her death sparked a change in the bridge's grating system, which officials say had been a concern for drivers for many years. The grating was later fully replaced.

"People will use it now that you don't have the grating," Goldman said. "People were saying, 'I don't want to use this bridge because I don't want to cross the grating.' Now you don't have that."

Even though the bridge has been through a lot over the years and is currently out of commission, city leaders are thankful the accident wasn't worse. They're asking that residents be patient.

"I trust that FDOT is going to make sure, one, that it's assessed correctly, (two), that it's repaired correctly, and three, they need to test it," Yarborough said. "Because safety is the biggest thing."

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