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Divers inspect Coastline Drive after Liberty Street collapse

Infrastructure problems become campaign issue in Jacksonville mayoral race

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Divers took a closer look at the pilings holding up Coastline Drive on Monday, more than two weeks after a portion of nearby Liberty Street collapsed into the St. Johns River.

The collapse near the old courthouse closed the Northbank Riverwalk and parts of Coastline Drive and left some homeowners without power.

The Department of Transportation sent divers under the road Monday as part of an enhanced inspection to see if Coastline Drive can be reopened. Inspections from two years ago showed areas of concern with the pilings, but the road was deemed safe.

"Like we were saying, this isn't safe," DOT spokesman Ron Tittle said. "So we want to make sure we get up under there with divers and do an enhanced safety inspection just to see if there is anything that would be a concern."

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Crews were also working to restore electricity to The Riverwalk Townhomes, which have been without power since the collapse. A helicopter flew in new transformers over the weekend, but it could take about two weeks to restore power.

There is no word on when repairs to Liberty Street will begin, and the issue has begun to affect the upcoming mayoral election.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is seeking re-election and his opponents have criticized Brown for what they call a slow response to the Liberty Street issues. They said it points out glaring flaws in the city's infrastructure.

Republican Bill Bishop said the hole in Liberty Street is a major problem that has to be addressed, and much of the concern will be how to pay for repairs.

"The mayor has avoided the infrastructure problem just like he's avoided a lot of problems that we have," Bishop said. "The discussion needs to center around where we are going to get the money to pay for the stuff we have to do. … The mayor should be leading the charge on telling people what's going on, and he's not."
    

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Republican Lenny Curry said the collapse shows the neglect the city has faced over the  years. On Friday, he said Brown took too long to respond. Curry said he would have reacted the first day of the collapse by getting help for the homeowners who lost power.

"This was a real problem, a real problem with a mayor sitting in office that could have come out with a solution immediately," Curry said. "It took over a week. I am just communicating to the citizens of Jacksonville what I would have done immediately."

The mayor's campaign staff pointed out it took Curry nearly two weeks to announce his stance on the collapse issue.

Brown's staff said he wasn't available for comment Monday. After the city announced that emergency funds would be used to cover the cost of restoring power to the homeowners, Brown said Friday he waited to react to the collapse because of safety concerns.
 
"You want to double-check everything so you had all the stakeholders -- the state had to play a role; the city had to play a role -- everybody looking at everything to be sure that you don't create any more problems at JEA," Brown said. "I think we came up with a solution and now it's going to be solved."

Independent candidate Omega Allen said she was not aware of the issue when News4Jax asked her for comment Monday morning. She later came to the site and checked it out.
 
"I don't know if it qualifies as a campaign issue but it is an issue, a city issue," Allen said. "I think it's indicative of the neglect that we've had of our infrastructure town-wide." 


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