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19 bridges in southwest Florida classified as “structurally deficient”; FDOT says not to worry

NEWS AT A GLANCE

Hundreds of thousands of people cross bridges in Southwest Florida every day, but how many of those bridges meet modern safety standards? And how often should it be repaired?

WINK News studies how the State of Florida inspects every bridge for safety and reveals how Florida bridges compare to the rest of the country.

David Kus has been fishing off a pier just off the El Jobean Bridge in Charlotte County for about 20 years, which means thousands of trips across the bridge itself.

“Oh wow, it’s almost a daily thing,” he said, “Probably at least five days a week.”

According to state records, the bridge was built in 1959, the same year Alaska was admitted as the 49th state. Which makes it one of the oldest bridges in the region.

The state rates bridges in three categories; good, functionally obsolete and structurally deficient.

As Kus said, “It’s beautiful from here!” The El Jobean Bridge is classified as “functionally obsolete” because it is not up to modern standards. This may be due to not complying with various requirements such as narrow lanes, a small shoulder or a little low vertical clearance. But the documents do not show the details.

Jim Jacobsen of the Florida Department of Transportation says, “It’s still rated in good condition. It still does its job,” and that these bridges are still safe to use. “All of this means that the bridge was built at a time when today’s design standards were different from those of today. It’s still safe, it’s still usable.

Most bridges in southwest Florida are considered good, like the one over the Hermosa Canal in Cape Coral, for example, which was originally built in 1972. It was widened last year to improve the security.

FDOT indicates that 97% of Florida’s bridges receive a “good” rating.

“Inspectors look top to bottom, end to end,” Jacobsen explained. “If there are any changes or deterioration, this is documented and repairs are scheduled.”

The lowest of three ratings a bridge can achieve in Florida is “structurally deficient.”

A Cape Coral bridge over the Lido Canal is just one of 11 structurally deficient bridges in Lee County and one of 19 in all of Southwest Florida.

This means that it must be repaired or replaced within the next six years.

There are four structurally deficient bridges in Collier County, two in DeSoto County, and two in Hendry County.

“We have a repair project planned. If it’s at the end of its life, it may be determined that it’s best to replace it instead of investing more money in it,” Jacobsen added.

According to federal data, Florida bridges have the 9th highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges compared to the rest of the country.

The FDOT says harsh weather conditions and the number of bridges over salt water create challenges that may affect its lifespan.

And officials want drivers to know if the bridge is open, regardless of how safe it is to drive.

“The bridge is safe,” Jacobsen reiterated. “If it ever changes where we think the ratings are going down, it would be closed.”

Every bridge and overpass in Southwest Florida has been inspected within the last two years.

If a bridge is deemed unsafe, it is immediately closed for repair.

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