BY MARCY SHORTUSE – On Tuesday, Dec. 1 at around noon motorists had what some would refer to as a “bonding moment” when the new swing bridge, which was being tested by engineers, failed to swing shut. No traffic could cross the old bridge for approximately 90 minutes.
Some drivers stayed in their vehicles and waited it out. Others turned around and went home. Some gathered in the Kappy’s Deli parking lot and had an impromptu “waiting it out” party.
Kathy Banson-Verrico, the executive director of the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority, explained what happened.
“Over the past few weeks the GLF Construction Corporation has been working on the final machinery placement and alignment,” she said. “The northern drive machinery was aligned last week with no issue. The southern drive machinery alignment was attempted yesterday, causing the northern drive machinery to become compressed and made the coupling unable to turn. This event happened during the noon opening which caused the new bridge to be stuck in the open position. Since the new bridge is over the old bridge in the open position, it was not safe for traffic to proceed until the new bridge was properly closed.”
Banson-Verrico said the process took about 90 minutes, causing traffic delays.
“We put our traffic delay procedures into action and overall the process went smoothly,” she said. “The alignment process of all machinery components is considered part of the normal process and not indicative of a long-term problem. The closing process was slow but extremely efficient and GLF did an excellent job solving the problem. We apologize for any inconvenience due to vehicle days and assure you that the final machinery component installation is being job done properly and safely.”
Traffic started moving again at 1:18 p.m., breaking the mid-day pause.
By the way, GIBA does coordinate with local emergency personnel, and a plan is in place in the event a sick or injured patient needs to be transported off the island in the event of an emergency.
When situations such as this occur, the Coast Guard is notified. On December 2, December 3 and today, December 4, the new swing bridge is closed. Because the old swing bridge is fully operational, boats requiring less than 20 feet of vertical clearance will still be granted an opening. Boats requiring more than 20 feet of vertical clearance will be re-routed.