JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the Florida Department of Transportation continues its inspection of Jacksonville’s iconic Hart Bridge, News4Jax got a chance to shadow the people responsible for making sure the bridge is safe.
The routine inspection of the decades-old bridge — which was built in 1967 and takes its name from Isaiah D. Hart, the city’s founder, according to the Jacksonville Historical Society — takes place once every two years.
It’s a process that takes weeks to complete since workers inspect the bridge from top to bottom, with divers surveying what’s happening beneath the surface of the St. Johns River and climbers assessing the deck and truss, to ensure everything’s structurally sound for drivers who rely on it for their commutes.
Whether they’re working underwater or suspended mid-air in a bucket truck, crews are checking over the structure for signs of damage, rust or any other deficiencies, according to an FDOT spokesperson.
So far, the $8.8 million structure has gotten a clean bill of health from inspectors.
If a problem is uncovered, crews begin work to address it and report their findings to FDOT. And in the event that it’s something that poses serious concerns, the state agency is notified and crews will make immediate repairs as needed to keep the bridge in working order.
Climbers could be seen scaling parts of the bridge that are inaccessible from bucket trucks and other pieces of machinery. And while that kind of work might resemble a high-wire act, those directly involved in those efforts say the work isn’t as dangerous as it might look.
“There really is no opportunity for someone to fall,” said Sanya Watts, the owner of FIT Engineering, a local company that employs some of the climbers inspecting the Hart Bridge. “We are always backed up.”
It’s the type of work that requires a lot of skill and preparation. But for some of the veterans of these routine bridge inspections, they take a lot of pride in the work they’re doing.
Asked what he enjoys most about his job, FDOT bridge inspector Gremille Castillo told News4Jax it’s all about protecting the thousands of people who travel over the bridge daily.
“Just the satisfaction of knowing that the traveling public is safe, I know when we get through inspecting these structures because, as you know, we all have families and stuff too,” Castillo said.