Safety on all Jacksonville bridges a concern

101 crashes on Buckman Bridge since July 1, 2013

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Heather Leigh - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The fatal crash in which a pickup truck went over the Buckman Bridge on Wednesday has raised concerns about safety for all Jacksonville bridges.

There have been 101 traffic crashes on the Buckman since July 1, 2013, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

In most of the crashes, the cars and trucks stay on the bridge and it is rare that one goes over the side. When it does happen, it usually involves larger vehicles like a truck or SUV.

The Florida Department of Transportation said Thursday the bridge is safe following the crash.

"We got a report back. Our inspectors were there this morning. Apparently there is no structural damage to that bridge," FDOT spokesman Ron Tittle said.

Attorney Seth Pajcic represented the family 41-year-old Luma Kajy, a mother of two who died after her SUV went over the Buckman Bridge in February 2010.

"She's hit, she rolls over. We were able to reach a successful settlement in that case," Pajcic said.

But he said the settlement isn't enough because the Buckman Bridge is still a danger to others, even though FDOT says it meets minimum requirements.

"My grandfather used to always say, 'If you're going to do something, you do it right,' and I think doing the minimum is not doing something right," Pajcic said. "Doing something right is making sure it's appropriate and safe and it's a job well done, and obviously this guard rail is not well done."

Construction on the bridge began in 1964 and was opened by 1970. Pajcic said trucks and SUVs were few and far between in those days.

"You're higher up, you have a higher center of gravity," he said. "When you get hit from behind, you have a higher center of gravity, you're more likely to roll over. You're going to roll, hit those guard rails. Those vehicles that are higher up off the road, you hit those guardrails, they aren't going to keep you on the highway, you're going to roll into the water unfortunately."

Several other bridges in Jacksonville have barriers similar to those on the Buckman. For instance, the Fuller Warren Bridge has a tapered bottom to help divert cars back on the highway, as do the Dames Point Bridge and the Interstate 95 bridge over the Trout River.

They meet federal and state standards with the height of 2 feet 8 inches.

On the Acosta Bridge, the barriers are 2 feet 9 inches tall and there is also a railing on the side for pedestrians that is 4 feet 5 inches tall.

There is a different type of barrier on the older bridges in Jacksonville, like the Mathews and the Hart bridges. They have barriers that are not tapered and the concrete is sticking out.

"There are standards that FDOT follows," Tittle said. "We met those standards for all of our bridges and construction. We met the federal standards also, so the same standards apply nationwide."

There have been changes made before on barriers to raise the height in areas that present a problem, but that is not happening right now for the Buckman.

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