No quick solutions after partial collapse of North Palm Beach bridge


Highlights

Cables holding the sidewalk to the bridge failed, FDOT told North Palm Beach.

Transportation officials consider the bridge functionally obsolete.

Two failing cables caused a chunk of a busy U.S. 1 bridge just north of Northlake Boulevard to plunge into the canal beneath it Wednesday morning, according to North Palm Beach officials.

A section of sidewalk and railing on the southbound side of the U.S. 1 bridge over the C-17 Canal collapsed just after 9 a.m. Wednesday. The canal is known locally as the Earman River.

The bridge is just south of Frigate’s Waterfront Bar & Grill and north of an IHOP. For the next few days, only one southbound lane on U.S. 1 will be open.

Two northbound lanes will be open, according to FDOT. The third, far-right lane on U.S. 1 northbound will be for walkers and bicyclists while the sidewalks on both sides of the bridge are closed.

One left-turn lane from Northlake to U.S. 1 is also closed.

RELATED: Bridge partially collapses in North Palm Beach

Police Sgt. Lou Pearson said there was no car in the water, as many passersby had speculated when they saw the damage. No injuries were reported.

Florida Department of Transportation inspectors spent the morning evaluating the bridge. They determined that two post-tension wires that held the sidewalk to the bridge failed, according to an update from North Palm Beach posted to the village’s Facebook page.

Inspectors are still working on their report, an FDOT spokeswoman said. The department is working on an emergency declaration that will allow them to speed up repairs. There’s no estimate on how much repairs will cost or how long they will take, the spokeswoman said.

North Palm Beach resident John Gaines said he was finishing breakfast at the IHOP when he felt a vibration. Gaines, who is retired from the Navy, thought maybe the marine store next door dropped a boat. Curious, he went outside and saw that part of the bridge had collapsed.

READ: North Palm revisits question: Should US 1 be narrowed to 4 lanes?

“I thought maybe a boat hit it, but no, it fell by itself,” he said. “That’s even stranger.”

Village police and the Coast Guard shut down the waterway on either side of the bridge after the sidewalk gave way. It’s unclear if boat traffic is still suspended.

All lanes of traffic were closed on the southbound side of the bridge while engineers assessed the damage. By early Wednesday afternoon, police opened the innermost southbound lane.

As of Wednesday evening, FDOT said inspectors were still assessing the bridge. In an emailed statement, they said they are working on an “emergency declaration” that will “allow us to expedite repairs.” There was no cost estimate yet, nor a time-frame for when repairs will take place.

The stationary bridge handles an average of 26,500 cars a day. It was built in 1956 and rebuilt in 2003, according to bridge data and reports obtained by The Palm Beach Post from FDOT. The department will determine the scope of repairs based on the sidewalk failure and overall condition of the bridge, according to the village.

FDOT considers the bridge “functionally obsolete,” which means it doesn’t meet today’s standards; it doesn’t mean the bridge is dangerous, according to the village.

The bridge’s “sufficiency rating” is 75.8 percent, according to the most recent available report. Bridges with a rating less than 80 percent can qualify for federal aid for repairs. Bridges with ratings below 50 percent can get federal aid for replacements.

The ratings use data points to determine how fit bridges are to do their jobs.

The outer northbound travel lane is available for use by walkers and bikers. The northbound sidewalk is closed because it’s connected with the same type of wires as on the southbound side, the village said.

U.S. 1 is six lanes in the area. North Palm Beach officials have considered reducing it to four to make it easier and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians to navigate.

Data reporter Mike Stucka contributed to this story.



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