The new U.S. 1 bridge over the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter won’t exactly tower over the nearby landscape — but it could be 40 percent taller than the current bridge. And it could cost nearly 50 percent more than originally reported.
Officials say the height will significantly scale back drawbridge openings, but there is concern it could obscure the view of the lighthouse.
After meeting with the public and Jupiter officials over the past two years, the Florida Department of Transportation has chosen its preferred height for the bridge: 35 feet, up from the 25 feet of vertical clearance it now offers boaters.
The estimated cost: just over $117 million — up from the previously reported $80 million.
The bridge is sorely in need of replacement, state officials have told the town. In a presentation before the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization Board on Monday, Paul Cherry, an engineer with FDOT consultant Kimley Horn, said that the age of the bridge makes improvements to the existing structure more costly in the longterm than planning now to replace the bridge.
Cherry said of the five alternatives considered by FDOT — including doing nothing — there was “lots of support in the community” for the 35-foot option. Engineers estimate it will lead to about 44 percent fewer drawbridge openings, and it will have the greatest improvement of all of the options, Cherry added. Raising the bridge to 40 feet was the tallest option, and would cut drawbridge openings by 49 percent — but that’s too high, said town Councilman Wayne Posner.
“It would hurt the view of the lighthouse,” Posner said.
The new bridge at 35 feet would be the same height as the Indiantown Road bridge above the Intracoastal Waterway, said MPO Commissioner and Jupiter town council member Jim Kuretski.
The bridge also will be wider. Right now it is about 65 feet across; the new bridge will be about 100 feet across. Where the current bridge only has a small shoulder, the new bridge will have an eight-foot sidewalk separated from the roadway by a barrier, and an eight-foot shoulder that will include a seven-foot bike lane.
“The new bridge will be a huge improvement for public safety,” Kuretski said.
Cherry also presented two options for the design of the bridge’s tender house. Option B is more reminiscent of a lighthouse — with the Jupiter Lighthouse sitting just about 1,000 feet from the bridge — and the other option follows a more traditional design for a tender house.
While the MPO Board voted unanimously to approve the preferred option, FDOT must hold another public hearing — slated for the spring — and present the plan to Jupiter officials before moving forward with construction.
Officials also must decide on how to handle traffic during construction. One alternative is to keep one lane open in each direction on the current bridge until half of the new bridge is built, then shift traffic there until the new bridge is completed — similar to what has been done with the Flagler Memorial Bridge being built between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach.
The other option is to divert traffic to Alternate A1A, which would allow the bridge to be completed faster. And it would cost less, Cherry said. But he added that option would require motorists to spend more time in their vehicles going around the bridge.
“When you take into consideration the wear and tear on vehicles, the gas money and the inconvenience to drivers and disruptions to businesses, it makes more sense to keep the bridge open during construction,” Posner said.
Turn lanes must be improved, Kuretski said. He noted that traffic heading east on PGA Boulevard from the Intracoastal Waterway often backs up after a bridge opening.
Although the bridge could close completely during construction, Cherry said that can’t happen without the town’s approval, so a decision on that has not yet been made.
To learn more about the work being planned for the U.S. 1 bridge in Jupiter, go to www.jupiterus1bridge.com.