Bridge closure won't affect tolls

Sheri Kotzum | 315-4353 | @DestinLogSheri | skotzum@thedestinlog.com
Motorists found the south end of the Mid-Bay Bridge blocked Wednesday morning as crews make emergency repairs to the span. The bridge is closed to all traffic until Florida Department of Transportation inspectors determine the span is safe for vehicle traffic. [DEVON RAVINE/DAILY NEWS]

As the Mid-Bay Bridge goes on its fifth day of being closed, the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority wants to reassure the public that the emergency closure will not affect toll rates or the amount of time it will take to pay off the debt.

“It’s not gonna affect the toll rates at all,” said Van Fuller, the executive director of the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority.

On Jan. 8, the bridge was suddenly closed as the Florida Department of Transportation stated emergency repairs were needed after FDOT inspectors found corrosion on post-tensioning tendons, a pre-stressed steel cable inside the bridge that reinforces concrete, during a recent inspection.

Post-tensioning tendons are one of the internal support systems placed inside the bridge. There are multiple tendons in each span of the Mid-Bay Bridge. The corrosion was initially found during a routine inspection late last year.

“During our inspection in October, they found some tendons they wanted to replace as part of maintenance ... all bridges need maintenance,” said Ian Satter, spokesperson for FDOT.

Satter said the bridge was determined to be safe to drive on and, as Hurricane Michael recovery efforts were ongoing, FDOT planned to assemble a team to go inside the Mid-Bay Bridge and complete the required maintenance after the holiday season.

If things had gone to plan, crews would have worked on repairs during the night-time hours to help prevent impacting traffic. But during a recent inspection, FDOT crews decided repairs needed to be done quicker.

“They went in one more time for an inspection and were in there this week and saw the corrosion was a bit further along than they were comfortable with,” Satter said. “That’s why they decided to close the bridge.

According to Fuller, a second corroded tendon was found in one of the spans that already had a corroded tendon scheduled to be worked on, which drove FDOT’s decision to close the bridge.

Crews were sent in Tuesday night after the bridge was ordered closed and 15 to 20 people were sent back into the guts of the bridge Wednesday to assess the damage, Satter said.

“They’re working 24/7 to get it open as quickly as possible,” Fuller said.

FDOT announced Friday afternoon they hope to have the bridge open in the late evening of Jan. 16. Initially, traffic will be limited to two-axle vehicles including cars, trucks, SUVs, school buses and limited EMS and first responder equipment only. Semi-trucks and commercial vehicles will be required to use alternate routes until permanent repairs to the Mid-Bay Bridge are complete.

According to a press release from FDOT, “the closure is a cautionary measure intended to minimize the stresses on the bridge during repairs and is a necessary step to quickly re-open the Mid Bay Bridge,” and while some are grateful the issue was caught before a catastrophe happened, many are frustrated with the lack of notice about the closure.

“The disappointing part, being such a major entity in the area, we had heard nothing,” said Heather Ruiz, the marketing manager for the Destin Commons. “I actually heard about it on my drive home when the school district called to let every body know what was going on.

“I can’t even begin to describe the frustration I have with the fact that this wasn’t a decision that was made within 5 minutes,” Ruiz added. “The fact that there was zero communication from MBBA and the DOT beforehand is unacceptable.”

Fuller said he understands how frustrating and inconvenient the shutdown is and that FDOT is hoping to get it back open as soon as possible.

“We need to make sure we get this thing repaired properly and understand why this suddenly came to be and do whatever needs to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

The closure will not affect the current debt or toll rates as Fuller said the Authority makes sure they have enough cash in the bank for events such as this.

“The fees collected from tolls goes toward the debt of the bridge as well as maintenance, repairs and improvements,” Fuller said. “Nothing is done to the entire bridge system that isn’t paid for by the tolls.”

Daily News reporter Tom McLaughlin contributed to this article.