By Ann Henson Feltgen, BrowardBulldog.org
Its ocean-access waterways and backyard yachts define Fort Lauderdale’s pricey Harbor Beach neighborhood.
Yet despite its wealth, and its reliance on the water, the neighborhood is home to several of the worst bridges in Fort Lauderdale, according to a study by the city’s Public Works Department.
The worst of the bunch, seemingly freshly painted, shows no obvious sign of deterioration. If you look carefully, however, rebar exposed by cracked and crumbling concrete is visible at both ends of the bridge.
A 2010 inspection report also noted that the bridge’s channel bank is beginning to slump and concrete embankment protection have widespread minor damage.
The bridge is on West Lake Drive between SE 14th Street and Mercedes Drive and scored 24.7 out of a possible 100 points during its 2011 inspection. It is among seven low-scoring bridges in the city declared obsolete and in need of replacement in the Public Works study presented to city commissioners in September.
The estimated price tag to replace all seven bridges is about $17 million.
The city has no budget for the project despite staff recommendations since 2007 citing concerns about the bridges. Instead, Fort Lauderdale officials are waiting on a government handout – from state or federal sources – to replace the bridges.
BRIDGE MONEY NEEDED
The bridges were all built or rebuilt in the early 1950s. They include: the East Las Olas Boulevard bridge over the Himmarshee Canal, the bridge from Lucille Drive to Laguna Terrace in Harbor Beach, the Northeast 41st Street and Castle Harbor Isle bridges over the Toulon Waterway in Bermuda Riviera.
The others are in Harbor Beach on South Ocean Drive near Mayan Lake Drive, West Lake Drive near Lucille Drive and West Lake Drive near Mercedes Drive.
Fort Lauderdale owns 52 neighborhood bridges.
According to a Community Investment Plan approved by the city council in September, which included the Public Works study, work on the failing bridges should begin this year if money can be obtained.
The Florida Department of Transportation inspects bridges every two years – Harbor Beach bridges were last inspected in September 2011, according to state records.
In addition to inspecting bridges, the state also operates a federal bridge replacement fund that pays for the repair or rebuilding of deficient locally-owned bridges, said John Clark, FDOT state bridge maintenance and repair engineer.
“Our program is a statewide funding program of all locally owned bridges and we rank them on a statewide basis,” he said. “There are 200 bridges more or less on the list for replacement, but it’s funding dependent as it is a secondary use of federal funds.”
Because of their deteriorating conditions weight restrictions have been placed on most of Fort Lauderdale’s failing bridges. FDOT provided plans for bridge replacements in 2008, but none are currently on the state’s list for replacement.
“It’s kind of unusual to have sufficiency [ratings] that low and not be on the list,” Clark said of Harbor Beach bridge. “Other things can affect that number. There’s no safety issue, but it has a downgraded load capacity, so you can assume it isn’t in great shape.”
EXPECTING STATE HELP
The city expects FDOT to provide replacement funding, according to Fort Lauderdale spokesman Chaz Adams.
“FDOT has already funded the design portion of the bridge replacement projects,” Adams said. “It’s important to keep in mind that FDOT has provided funding to the city for two bridge replacement projects that are currently along Southeast 15th Avenue. “
Adams also cited FDOT financial backing of a bridge replacement that the city completed last year to the exclusive, gated Harborage Isle section of Harbor Beach. He expects FDOT to provide money for the replacement projects.
The city’s seven failing bridges are located in lightly traveled neighborhoods.
Harbor Beach’s ailing bridge is the only way in or out of the neighborhood that is surrounded by water. In 2005, it was used by an average of 2,690 vehicles a day, according to state reports.
Ultimately, however, it is up to the entity that owns the bridges to maintain and replace them when necessary, according to Clark.
“Our funding is only supplemental,” Clark said. “The federal program primarily supplies funding for our inspection program.”
He added, “Unfortunately, nobody notices these things until they are broken.”
Meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale is stepping up on another set of bridges it owns.
According to the Community Investment Plan, budgets are in place and bids will go out for eight city-owned bridges that also need lesser repairs. The $3.34 million budget from the public works department’s general fund will cover repairs beginning this year and running through 2017.
The bridges are along Southeast 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 13th streets and Cordova Avenue, as well as Northeast 41st Street and Northeast 42nd Street.
Work includes repairing concrete spalling, cracks, expansion, joints, bulkheads, concrete piles and bridge repainting.
City staff said that this preventative maintenance work will extend the lives of these bridges for two decades or more.
Ann Henson Feltgen can be reached at ahenson@BrowardBulldog.org