FDOT releases findings on Buckman Bridge crashes

Report focuses on vehicles crashing over railing

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Transportation released a 50-page safety study on the Buckman Bridge Friday after questions were raised regarding safety and the height of the bridge's railings.

The study was commissioned a year ago after 48-year-old William Maddox died while driving a pickup truck that spun out of control and went over the side of the bridge. There was a similar scene in 2010 when an SUV also went over the bridge.

Many people believe the low railings on the bridge are the reasons for crashes, but a Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson said the railings have actually stopped some cars from going over the bridge, with about 30 percent of crashes hitting and being stopped by the walls of the bridge.

"The Buckman Bridge, we showed through the study, is safe. It meets all the federal and state standards," Ron Tittle, spokesperson with the Florida Department of Transportation, said.

The study said speed and impaired driving are the reasons for most of the crashes.

But even though the study said the bridge is safe, some people are still concerned.

Victoria Ventner was in an accident on the bridge and said her truck almost flipped over the railing in Jan. 2013.

"I damaged my skull. I got staples put in the top of my head," Ventner said. "I had severe bruising and road burn. I still have scars and burns on my arm till today."

Ventner said her cousin has an injured elbow and her other cousin and sister had scratches and bruises.

"I got cut off because someone else was flying (down the road). They said if I had been one lane over that my truck would have flipped over the side of the bridge," Ventner said. "I still to this day, when I drive over the bridge, it gives me panic attacks. I don't drive close to the side."

A spokesperson with FDOT said drivers following the speed limit will reduce the number of crashes. The speed limit on the bridge is 65 mph but the report said the average speed drivers actually go is 72 mph.

They also said that speed is an average though, and some drivers are going a lot faster than 72 mph.

The study also said that 61 percent of the crashes between 2009 and 2013, the years the study focused on, were caused by careless driving, improper lane change and following too closely.

Between 2009 and 2013 a total of six deadly crashes happened on the bridge. Alcohol was the cause of two of the crashes, alcohol and drugs caused one of the crashes and speeding, failure to yield and careless driving caused the other crashes.

The report also said the majority of the crashes happen during the height of the morning and evening commutes between 7 and 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.

Between 2009 and 2013 there were 21 crashes between 6 and 7 a.m., 93 crashes between 7 and 8 a.m. In the evening around 5 p.m. there were 139 crashes and around 6 p.m. there were 155 crashes.

Most of the crashes happened on 295 northbound on or near the bridge.

The Florida Highway Patrol currently patrols the bridge to watch out for speeding drivers and the report said that increased patrols could help keep the bridge safer, but the only way to be able to step up more patrols would be to get an increase in funding from FDOT.

FDOT is also looking to see if putting double-friction asphalt on the bridge will make it safer but those plans could take five years to complete.