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Project to Nix Drawbridge on Beach Boulevard

Thu November 22, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Brooks

As the original road connecting Jacksonville with the beaches, Beach Boulevard (U.S. 90) has always had plenty of traffic concerns, especially at the McCormick drawbridge, which spans the Intracoastal Waterway.

The four-lane drawbridge was adequate when it was built more than 50 years ago, but times have certainly changed. Today, there are more people in the city, more cars on the road and more boats in the water.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the span goes up, allowing boats to pass through the waterway below, approximately 2,600 times a year or an average of seven times a day. During prime beach months in April, May, November and December, the span goes up 12 times daily, causing long backups.

In 2000, voters approved the Better Jacksonville Plan, a $2.2 billion public works and infrastructure improvement project, including $60 million to widen Beach Boulevard, one of three routes to and from the beaches, from four to six lanes between San Pablo and Penman roads and replace the McCormick drawbridge with two fixed bridges with three lanes in each direction. The new spans have a 65-ft. (20 m) clearance.

The work also includes the realignment of the north and south sections of Penman Road in Jacksonville Beach, just east of the drawbridge.

Superior Construction Co. is the contractor for the project. Founded in Gary, Ind., in 1938, Superior opened a division office in Jacksonville in 1987. Since that time, Superior has completed dozens of projects for FDOT, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), the Jacksonville Port Authority and the city of Jacksonville.

Construction started in June 2006 and is nearing the halfway point, according to the JTA, which is responsible for the project. Scheduled completion is July 2009 and work is on schedule despite a series of storms that interfered with the bridge work.

“We should be pretty close to the target date,” said Superior Project Manager Jeremy Andrews. “We’re almost done with the first bridge. It looks a little different if you haven’t been here in six or eight months. If you’re a local commuter, I would think not having the drawbridge would be a major bonus.”

JTA Director of external affairs Mike Miller said, “Everything is going well. We’re on schedule.”

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Andrews expects to switch traffic to the new span early next year. Then construction will begin on the eastbound, or southernmost span.

“We’ll get traffic on the new bridge and half the new asphalt down so we can start working on the second phase,” Andrews said. “We have to demo the existing bridge, but we’ve got to get traffic off of it first.”

Removing the existing bridge will be one of the biggest tasks on the job. It was made even bigger several years ago when extra concrete was added during a retrofit.

Forty-eight drill shafts and the original wooden piles must be removed because the foundation for the new south bridge must be placed in the same locations.

According to the JTA, muck at the western side of the bridges caused settlement so the decision was made to extend the bridges to avoid poor soil. The soil is so hard at two of the 16 piers that crews put casings in the ground for drilling.

“We had some pile driving in the water that required us to do pre-form holes,” Andrews said. “Case Atlantic came in with their drill shaft drill rigs. The limestone was so hard they had to drill it with that for us to put our pile in.”

Andrews said another challenging aspect has been the installation of the storm water system.

“It’s an extremely deep excavation for our pipes,” Andrews said. “That’s probably the hardest part of the job, our pipe excavations. We’re 16 to 18 feet deep, installing 60-inch storm water pipes.”

With any construction project in heavily congested areas, local businesses are sometimes impacted. Though detours have been minimal and traffic flow, Andrews said, hasn’t been an issue, there was one unexpected problem caused by construction.

The Homestead Restaurant, a Jacksonville Beach landmark known for its southern menu, was almost forced to close its doors, causing a public outcry.

Built in 1934, the log cabin served as an adoption home until it opened as The Homestead Restaurant in 1947. Co-owner Teresa Brown Pratt estimated the restaurant lost $156,000 in sales because of construction. She cited water and electrical problems and the difficulty customers have getting to the restaurant.

Hank Woodburn, the restaurant’s landlord, who also owns the neighboring Adventure Landing amusement park, has been helping the restaurant financially for the last few months and pledged to continue helping until construction is complete.

“We’re trying to save them any way possible,” Woodburn said. “They’re a landmark restaurant.”

The restaurant remains open, much to the delight of residents, and Miller said, “I think we’re past that issue right now.”

With another crisis averted, Andrews and the JTA are keeping crews and equipment humming at the job site.

“I’ve got an APE hammer, a couple of American cranes, probably three trackhoes, a couple of dozers, a Cat D-5 and Deere 750, at least three loaders and a bunch of man lifts,” Andrews said. “I’ve got a little bit of everything.”

Superior owns most of the equipment, but leases several pieces from United Rentals, Hertz, Pinnacle and Ring Power.

“We get good service,” Andrews said. “If we don’t, we don’t rent from them. It’s not always all about the price.”

Andrews said Superior has approximately 50 workers at the site daily, working “generally daytime hours unless there’s unusual circumstances.”

There are also several subcontractors involved with the project. Atlantic Coast Asphalt is about to start paving, Henson Electric is doing the lighting and electrical systems and T.G. Utilities is doing the water mains and sewers.

“Those are the three biggest subcontractors that are out here,” he said.

By the time the job is complete, Andrews said they’ll use approximately 33,000 tons (29,900 t) of structural and friction asphalt and about 114,000 sq. yd. (95,000 sq m) of 6-in. (15 cm) asphalt base. They also will have to haul away about 200,000 cu. yd. (153,000 cu m) of dirt when they remove the existing approaches to the bridge.

As the job approaches the halfway point, Andrews said all is looking good and they’re ready to begin the second phase.

“It will allow the people to get to the beach easier,” Andrews said. “Six-laning a four-lane road, getting rid of a drawbridge that causes congestion — it’s going to make that area a whole lot better.” CEG

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