12.8 C
Los Angeles
Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Brightline planning three-week closure of St. Lucie River bridge for renovations

NewsBrightline planning three-week closure of St. Lucie River bridge for renovations

STUART — Brightline plans to close the St. Lucie River railroad bridge for three weeks this spring, a move that could disrupt marine traffic and maritime business. Renovation of the 98-year-old bridge comes as the railroad prepares to extend its passenger service between Miami and Orlando.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fort Pierce, asked the U.S. Coast Guard Thursday to investigate the renovation plan and its economic impact.

The bridge shutdown would begin April 11, according to AnnMarie Graham, Mast’s spokesperson. Ben Porritt, Brightline senior vice president of corporate affairs, would not confirm the date or reveal and renovation cost.

No response from Coast Guard

As of Friday morning, the Coast Guard had not responded to Mast’s letter, Graham said. A Coast Guard representative could not be reached for comment.

“Why is our community constantly asked to bend over backwards in order to accommodate a company that has tried to steamroll us at every turn?” Mast asked in a news release. “The Coast Guard needs to take a good hard look at the devastating impact Brightline’s current plan would have on businesses that rely on bridge access. It’s unacceptable.”

Brightline, Porritt said in a statement, shares the same priority as Mast and is engaged with the the Coast Guard, the Marine Industries Association of Treasure Coast and community members “on the most streamlined construction plan and schedule.”

Brightline’s rehabilitation of the St. Lucie River Bridge is focused on improving the reliability of the drawbridge, “which will benefit both mariners and the railroad,” Porritt added.

He called the renovations “extensive rehab work similar to taking the engine out of your car.” The work is to include replacement of mechanical, electrical and control components.

Frustration from boaters

Boaters voiced frustration with the upcoming closure.

“Why couldn’t they do this work during the wintertime, when fewer people are on the water? Why do they have to do it in the spring, when more people are using their boats,” asked Mitch Maddren, owner of Jetty Hopper, a 23-foot-long Sailfish boat with a T-top he keeps at Meridian Marina in Palm City.

More:Brightline reneges on replspancing St. Lucie bridge spans bospanters spangspanin rspanise sspanfety concerns

Testing continues:Brightline to test 110 mph trspanins spangspanin stspanrting Jspann. 6 in Mspanrtin, St. Lucie counties

Is Brightline still ‘private’?:New federspanl grspannt, spannd support in D.C., keep rspanising the question

Brightline has announced a 21-day closure at the bridge to boat traffic in April 2023. Work is already underway including adding a safety railing to the 1926 built structure.

The Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast also is puzzled by the timing and process of the decision to close the bridge to boaters.

“I found out about the 21-day closure to the bridge two days ago,” said Tom Whittington, of Manatee Pocket Yacht Sales, president of the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast. “I have no idea how the marine industry is going to get through this,” 

“When I originally met with Brightline in October, they said then it would be an 11-day closure and I thought that was unacceptable,” Whittington added. “What I’m worried about is boaters traveling back from the Bahamas and trying to get upstream or over to Fort Myers. How are they going to wait for three weeks to pass?”

At least 90,808 vessels passed through the St. Lucie River railway bridge channel from June 2014 through September 2015, according to a boat traffic study Taylor Engineering conducted for Martin County. Days during the summer averaged up to 280 boats per day and winter averaged about 150 boats per day. Sundays (455 boats per day) and Saturdays (352 boats per day) were the busiest days in Stuart.

Brightline, formerly Virgin Trains USA, announced in October 2019 it would spend $100 million to replace the bridge with a double-track span, a project which would have required public funds. The company reneged on that commitment and opted to renovate it instead, leaving the bridge as the only single-track stretch along its 235-mile rail corridor.

Stuart City Manager David Dyess told TCPalm he was informed of the closure earlier this week, and staff would be meeting with Brightline officials and local law enforcement on Monday to create a plan to mitigate the impacts to boaters and emergency personnel who utilize the channel.

“It’s a sacrifice that I think the community is going to end up making, hopefully for an improvement in the future of marine access through that waterway,” Dyess said. “Obviously, we’re concerned about the fact that bridge is going to be closed for three weeks.”

Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald was not informed officially of the closure until Friday, he said. He echoed Dyess’ concerns on health and safety issues if emergency personnel are unable to pass through the channel.

“I think that’s probably our biggest concern. And then the second-biggest concern certainly would be the economic stress,” McDonald said.

Check out our other content

Check out other tags:

Most Popular Articles