During the permitting discussions, the agencies decided that due to the shallow water and environmental sensitivity, the bridge would not be allowed any place but the main Okeechobee Waterway Channel.
By Lori Lovely
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is overseeing the construction of the Indian Street Bridge on behalf of Martin County. When completed, the county will own and maintain the bridge, which the County Commissioners have already renamed Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Designated for $127 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the contract for this design/build project is $64.1 million. The engineering, surveying, permitting and inspection (CE&I project oversight, conducted by CardnoTBE) contract is $8.5 million. Right-of-way acquisition, including home purchases, required $31.5 million. Martin County issued $29.7 million in bonds for the FDOT acquisition program.
Designed to provide an additional evacuation route and reduce travel times for residents and seasonal visitors, the bridge is a new, high-level fixed bridge crossing the South Fork of the St. Lucie River and the Okeechobee Waterway to connect Palm City with the city of Stuart in Martin County, Fla. It will have 55 ft. (16.7 m) of vertical clearance and 200 ft. (60 m) of horizontal clearance for the waterway. The overall project length is 1.96 mi. (3.15 km), not including the 1.38 mi. (2.22 km) of existing roadway to be widened, and will feature dedicated bicycle lanes and separate pedestrian walkways on both sides, as well as six scenic overlooks.
Under the supervision of prime contractor Archer Western Contractors Ltd., work began April 4, 2011, and includes:
• widening and reconstruction of Martin Highway/County Road 714 west of Mapp Road, SW 36 Street and Indian Street just east of Kanner Highway
• reconstruction and widening of Mapp Road and Kanner Highway at the intersections
• installation of new traffic signals
• construction of bicycle lanes on SW Mapp Road
• installation of a new drainage system, including dry swales and drainage ponds
• installation of a bridge fender system
• installation of new decorative highway lighting
• installation of landscaping and irrigation
Before the main construction work could begin, activities such as clearing and grubbing, survey and utility relocation, crane assembly, assembling test piles and driving test piles were required. In addition, a temporary trestle is currently being assembled to provide a platform for workers to construct the bridge.
According to Beth Zsoka, public information officer of the Indian Street Bridge, during the permitting discussions, the agencies decided that due to the shallow water and environmental sensitivity, the bridge would not be allowed any place but the main Okeechobee Waterway Channel.
“Concerns about propeller dredging and damage by barges on the bottom promoted the trestle option,” Zsoka stated.
The trestle is an $8 million temporary bridge made of steel capable of carrying large cranes and materials to create a permanent bridge adjacent to it. It will be removed upon completion of the permanent bridge.
September saw a total of 122 people working on this project, reported Barbara Kelleher, public information director of FDOT District Four. An average of between 25 and 30 workers are on site daily, with an expected 696 full-time workers over the life of the project — significantly less than the 3,586 predicted when the project was awarded in February 2009 and fewer than the 825 applications received just in March of this year. According to Recovery.gov, since 2009 there have been 67.88 hires for surveying and engineering.
“Currently, crews are working five-day weeks, a schedule expected to continue unless there are ’schedule slips,’” Zsoka said. “If that situation arises, six-day weeks will be necessary.”
During the project, crews expect to pour 24-in. (60 cm) concrete piles — a 48,000-ft. (14,630 m) total, Zsoka calculates, requiring 26,000 yds. (23,774 m) of concrete and 4 million lbs. (1.8 million kg) of reinforcing steel. Major concrete pours will occur at night or early in the morning.
Other materials required include 30,000 ft (9,144 m) of precast beams; 15,000 ft. (4,572 m) of 14-in. (35.5 cm) precast piles; 46,000 sq. ft. (4,273 sq m) of MSE wall; 17,000 small plants and 4,300 large plants, 12,000 sq. yds. (23 acres) of sod; 14,000 tons (12,700 t) of asphalt, 10,000 ft. (3,048 m) of drainage pipe and 127 drainage fixtures. In addition, 130,000 yds. (118,872 m) of excavation is scheduled.
To do the work, crews will use four cranes, including a 230-ton (209 t) Manitowoc 888 and two Grove 60-ton (54 t) RTs. Two PC 300 diggers (excavators), two off-road dump trucks, two bulldozers, three loaders and one low boy (or semi) will be used to move dirt, materials and equipment.
What a Long,
Strange Trip It’s Been
The bridge has been a pet project of several commissioners since the 1980s, and a demonstrated need for it reaches back to 1965, when the necessity of a second crossing between Stuart and Palm City was first mentioned in county documents. It was approved by County Commissioners as part of the long-range comprehensive plan in 1982 and named the county’s No. 1 road priority in 1993, when projections forecast completion before 2000 at a cost of $40 million.
In 1987 the Martin County Long Range Transportation Plan confirmed the need for a second crossing of the South Fork of the St. Lucie River. However, named the Palm City Alternative Corridor in 1997, the bridge moved from the top to the bottom of the five-year improvement plan, with construction rescheduled from 2001 to 2003. One year later, the State Road 714/Palm City Bridge Feasibility Study reaffirmed the need for four additional or alternate lanes crossing the River.
In 2001, the commissioners returned the structure to a priority position and asked state legislators to secure funding. Then named the Indian Street Bridge, its cost was estimated at $84 million.
A Project Development and Environment Study was performed between 1998 and 2006, determining that the best location for a new bridge to Palm City would connect Indian Street in Stuart to 36th Street in Palm City, although some commissioners opposed the location until concluding that an alternate location to the north would be too expensive.
In 2007 the Martin County Metropolitan Planning Organization segmented the construction of the corridor making Mapp Road to Kanner Highway Segment #1, which includes the bridge.
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Although many business leaders and politicians have pushed for the project for nearly three decades, not everyone was in favor of the new span. The $72 million federal stimulus project has been criticized nationally as a waste of federal money.
The controversial structure is viewed by proponents as a means to relieve traffic on the existing Palm City Bridge, improve emergency response and create jobs. But opponents claim that the new bridge, 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) south of the Palm City Bridge, will add to western sprawl and cause further traffic problems along Kanner Highway, disrupting the neighborhoods in Old Palm City and along Martin Highway.
Even CNN and Fox News aired critical reports of the project after it was marked for federal stimulus funds in March 2009. Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard, who campaigned against the bridge before being elected in 2002, went on NBC’s “Today” show to question the use of stimulus money for the bridge. Provoked by accusations of wasteful spending from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the White House conducted a four-day review in June 2009, reaffirming the placement of the bridge on the stimulus list.
Funding hasn’t been the only point of contention slowing construction. According to Zsoka, challenges by local citizens to environmental permits delayed the project start by nearly a year. Plans call for 1.29 acres (.5 ha) of wetlands to be permanently cleared for the bridge and 0.779 acres (.3 ha) to be temporarily cleared for construction.
In 2007 Palm City residents Odias and Kathie Smith led a group of residents in filing a federal lawsuit, accusing state and federal transportation officials of violating the National Environmental Protection Act by downplaying the environmental damage the bridge would cause to the St. Lucie River, wetlands, fish habitat and neighborhood parks.
U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez rejected the group’s federal lawsuit in May 2010; but their appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta put planning on hold while they challenged the South Florida Water Management District’s permit for the bridge, contending the project will harm wildlife in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River, area wetlands, water quality and the quality of life in Old Palm City. They also claimed that the project violates local growth and federal environmental protection regulations by affecting the county-owned Kiplinger Tract in the South Fork.
By December, Administrative Law Judge D.R. Alexander recommended that the contested South Florida Water Management District permits for the bridge be approved. Litigation added $116,312 to Martin County’s tab.
Recently, an appellate judge dismissed a last-minute attempt by Citizens for Smart Growth for an injunction to halt the work. Construction finally began March 28, 2011, nearly a year after it was scheduled to commence.
Other causes of delay included the weather and the need to relocate several gopher tortoises.
“Weather has played a significant role in the first six months of the project,” Zsoka reiterated. “Significant rain amounts have hampered roadway work.”
Barring any other unexpected delays, estimated completion date is summer 2013.
Hal Smith, a civic activist from the Whispering Sound subdivision on Martin Highway in Palm City, and Kathie Smith told local media that residents living along the proposed route of the span remain unhappy about the bridge. They believe the state should have waited for the appeal to be decided before starting work. Instead, they watched as workers began clearing brush so utility lines and a temporary fence used to keep construction materials from the waterway could be installed along the Palm City bank of the South Fork of the St. Lucie River.
Mike DiTerlizzi, a Palm City businessman who advocated for the bridge during his eight years as a Martin County commissioner, told local media, “When this is done, and the park-like setting along 36th Street is there with the trees and the landscaping, and the water retention areas, it will be great for the people who live on that part of Palm City. And it’s a blessing to the people on the north side of Palm City. There will be less traffic around the existing bridge.” CEG