Could high winds close bridges Saturday?

Officials address transportation concerns downtown

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - High winds from tropical storms and hurricanes can force bridges to be closed, even without construction.

And with so many people heading downtown for Florida-Georgia game activities this weekend, officials addressed their concerns.

"We will take that on a case by case basis," Michael Jacobsen, director of Emergency Preparedness for the city of Jacksonville, said of any decisions to close bridges. "It won't be as if we'll close all the bridges. We have gauges on top of all the bridges in Duval County. We can tell the wind speed going across those bridges, and we may have to secure, if it comes to it, one or two."

There is a command center set up downtown near EverBank Field, where officials are not only watching the crowds but the weather. City planners say they don't believe there will be weather problems Saturday, but they say the winds will make camp life at RV City difficult. Officials want people to use common sense with grills and tents.

Those downtown are taking the storm in stride.

"It's going to be a little windy, a little rainy. We can deal with it," Gator fan Ron Skinner said. "We really don't have a choice."

The Florida Department of Transportation leaned a lot earlier this year about how to prepare bridges under construction for tropical storms. After Tropical Storm Beryl, the Mathews bridge had to be closed while construction debris was removed. Transportation officials are making sure that will not happen again.

"We totally reviewed the situation after Beryl because there was some legitimate concerns raised why those platforms came apart," FDOT spokesman Mike Goldman said. "And as a result of that analysis, we strengthened the platforms and added wind strength."

Because of the winds, the Coast Guard is worried about those going to the game by boat.

"Stay off the water, come down via car, bus, carpool, but not on a boat," Lt. Grant Johnson said.

Boaters already docked at Metropolitan Park said they're not worried.

"We are tucked away in the marina, so as far as waves, not too concerned," boater Gene Morton said. "As far as wind, it's tied up pretty good."

JEA is standing by as high winds mean trees may come down and power may be lost.

"We are monitoring it, and all of our crews are on standby," JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said. "So we are keeping an eye out on the winds and the rain. Also keep in mind that during these situations, we might receive calls from other areas asking for help. Right now we have not received any calls, but if the storm does turn, we expect some calls for help."

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