Bridge needs work soon

By Steve Estes

With about eight months to go before a more extensive repair takes place, county engineering officials are making plans to undertake some emergency repairs on the No Name Key Bridge.

During one of the many periodic bridge surveys done by the state Department of Transportation, inspectors discovered some spalling issues on the nearly 50-year-old span that require immediate attention.

According to County Engineering Director Judy Clarke, inspectors noticed the spalling under a bearing plate that supports one of the beams for the bridge.

It is the second such finding in the last two years on No Name Key Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1964 and such structures are estimated to have a 50-year life span, meaning No Name Key Bridge, also known as Old Wooden Bridge, is approaching the end of its estimated useful life span.

Clarke said county crews immediately shifted traffic off the affected section.

She is currently working with the design consultant that worked on the more extensive repair project that is several months away for a repair design, and hopes to have that complete in short order.

The optimal plan, she says, is to ask the Board of County Commissioners for permission to suspend the  normal purchasing process for major projects in light of the emergent nature of the need to repair the bridge. Normally that project would go out for bids for about 30 days, with another 30 days for review and approval by the BOCC and another 30 days to mobilize a contractor to do the work.

The county has a bridge contractor already at work in the area on the smaller hump bridge on Watson Blvd., which also leads to No Name Key.

“It is our hope that we can negotiate a decent deal with that contractor to take on this project as well as continue on the Watson project. That eliminates the need to spend the extra time to mobilize a new contractor,” said Clarke.

She says there are no plans as yet to reduce the overall weight load on the bridge, but the concern that makes this project a priority is for “the weight on that edge of the bridge.”

She says the bridge is not unsafe for traveling and can still easily withstand the weight of trash trucks and rock haulers that use the bridge on a routine basis.

The BOCC has approved $1 million of its own road and bridge money toward the looming repair project on the bridge in eight months or so. The state is kicking in another $5 million.

“We will be doing repair work to both the substructure and superstructure, the decks and the railings during the upcoming major project.” said Clarke.

The state has allocated its share of the money beginning in March. “We hope to be out for RFQ for inspection services on that project by March, with another three months or so to close contracts and get the work started,” said Clarke.

Clarke says that the more extensive project will not result in a bridge closure. One lane at least will remain open at all times.

“Because all of our bridges are generally the only way to get what’s on the other side, we have to ensure that they remain open during any work,” she said.

Though Monroe County essentially stopped all road paving several years ago, both due to budgetary issues and due to the ongoing wastewater system installations, bridge work has continued, Clarke said.

“The sewer contracts have taken care of a lot of paving for us, and will take care of more as the Cudjoe Regional progresses,” she said.

The county is currently in the midst of a paving needs analysis that when done in a few months will tell engineers the conditions on most county-owned roads and which of those roads are most in need of immediate paving. The BOCC has set aside $5 million per year in infrastructure sales tax proceeds and gas tax to eliminate what many believe is a $30 million backlog in road paving projects.

But Clarke says that bridges won’t get left out of the mix when the road and bridge master plan is developed.

“The paving assessment is one tool we’ll use to prioritize both road and bridge work in the coming years,” she said. “We will develop a seven-year road and bridge master plan that will be updated yearly.”

There are 42 bridges in Monroe County that are maintained by the state under an agreement with the federal government. US 1 is a federal highway that is maintained by FDOT, and the bridges on US 1 fall under that umbrella.

But the county has more than 300 miles of roads that it owns as well as 25 bridges that lead to the more outlying areas of the county.

Clarke said that may of the county’s bridges, as well as the state bridges, were built in the 1950s and 1960s and all are approaching their estimated 50-year useful life span.

“We’ve managed to do some bridge work in the last few years, but the aging bridges are definitely something we need to address going forward,” she said.

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