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Wintry weather could make some Jacksonville bridges dangerous

Ice building on bridges could force them to shut down for safety

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Chances of freezing rain and snow in this week's forecast could impact roads across Northeast Florida.

If snow flurries or ice make their way to the Sunshine State, some Jacksonville bridges could close, because ice building up on the bridge could prove dangerous for drivers.

The higher the elevation, like the Dames Point Bridge, which is about 17 stories, the higher the chance the bridge could close. Other bridges vulnerable to icing include the Buckman, Hart and Mathews.

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Ben McCorkel, a driving instructor for the Northeast Florida Safety Council and a retired Nassau County Sheriff’s deputy and state trooper, offered some advice if drivers find themselves on icy roads.

“The bridges will definitely ice faster than the road. The reason being is you have a freezing temperature on top and underneath,” McCorkel explained. “Once people get this ice and they start sliding, what they want to do is slam on the brakes. That’s not a good idea. You want to reduce your speed, set your foot up off the gas, do not apply the braking.”

Braking could cause you to spin out or even flip, McCorkel said.

“Your rear is going to start coming to the left. Now you want to steer slightly to the left. I’m sure these tires are going to the left. What that is going to do is start to straighten up,” he explained.

It’s important to prevent this McCorkel said by making sure a vehicle's tires have enough air pressure and tread, driving 10 to 15 mph below the speed limit, keeping a safe distance away from other vehicles -- at least 2 seconds worth -- and avoiding driving unless it's absolutely necessary.

“One of the biggest problems is the experience,” he said. “We have a lot of inexperienced drivers out there.”

Florida Department of Transportation representatives said the department doesn't have any plans to prepare the roads for the upcoming weather right now, but law enforcement will monitor the road conditions and let FDOT know if any closures or measures need to be taken. 

FDOT can salt or sand the roads, but transportation officials said they rarely need to do that.

They also have cameras on the bridges that law enforcement monitor as well. 

Whether bridges remain open or not, many drivers will face the challenge of navigating during winter weather -- a challenge most in Florida aren't accustomed to.

“I would be cautious. They’re not used to that kind of weather,” said Jacksonville resident Lovee Agnihorti, who moved to town in 2002. “I would love it (to snow). I think people would like it. That would be a nice change.”

Agnihorti said that although he feels comfortable driving during winter weather, he hopes other drivers take precautions before hitting freezing roads. 

Safety tips while driving on icy roadways

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and it’s division of the Florida Highway Patrol provided the following safe driving tips: 

  • Stay put. Avoid driving, if at all possible. The safest place to be is off the roads.
  • Slow down. When roads are icy, vehicles don’t have the traction required to stop quickly.
  • Stay alert. When the temperature is near freezing, the roadway may look wet when in fact ice is forming.
  • Check tire inflation often. As temperatures drop, so can your tire pressure. Low tire pressure does not give tires better traction in icy conditions, it only makes them more vulnerable to damage.
  • Remember that bridges and overpasses are more prone to freezing in these types of conditions and will ice over first. Proceed with caution when driving in these areas.
  • Do not attempt to pass slower vehicles.
  • Leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Gently apply brakes and accelerate at a slow speed.
  • Be patient and courteous. Driving in adverse weather conditions can be stressful.
  • Florida does not allow tire chains. Section 316.299, Florida Statutes, states that only tires with rubber studs designed to improve traction are permitted on public roadways.

The FHP will be monitoring roadways and bridges in 12-hour shifts to help ensure they are safe for travel. If motorists observe any roadway problems or need assistance, they should  dial *FHP(347).  

Florida prepares

Gov. Rick Scott directed the following state actions in preparation for the severe weather: 

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)

  • FDOT crews will conduct winter weather operations by spraying state roads and bridges later tonight and into the early hours of Wednesday ahead of freezing temperatures.

  • Spraying will consist of a saline solution that is designed to lower the freezing temperature of the precipitation falling on the bridge surfaces.

  • Motorists may notice an increased number of FDOT vehicles on state routes as FDOT maintenance and operations staff monitor winter weather conditions on bridges and roadways.

Florida Highway Patrol (FHP)

  • FHP troops A (Pensacola), B (Gainesville), G (Jacksonville) and H (Tallahassee) will be on 12-hour shifts monitoring any impacted roadways in coordination with FDOT.
  • FHP Quick Reaction Force teams from other areas in the state also remain on standby if additional highway safety needs arise in winter storm-impacted areas.
  • Motorists should dial *FHP (347) from their mobile phone if they are on the road and need assistance.

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