JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Mathews Bridge surprisingly opened ahead of schedule Tuesday morning despite the Florida Department of Transportation telling us that it wouldn't happen until after rush hour Tuesday night.
We first got word around 5:30 a.m. when a cab driver in Arlington called WOKV and said that westbound lanes of the Mathews were open. Both FDOT and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office then confirmed that all lanes of the Mathews are open for traffic Tuesday morning.
FDOT spokesman Mike Goldman says all day Monday and Tuesday crews were removing the temporary repairs and conducting inspections on the span.
“We just want to make sure that the weight levels are satisfactory, that it can hold traffic,” he says.
Although the damage to the Mathews Bridge was considered substantial, FDOT says it could have been catastrophic if the impact of the ship on the bridge were a few inches over. However, he says the bridge will be safe for drivers when it's finally open.
“Motorists should not be concerned about driving across the bridge,” he says.
State representative Lake Ray called WOKV Tuesday to let us know the ride across the bridge was just fine and echoed Goldman's point that drivers shouldn't be worried about driving on it.
"The state's not going to open a bridge up unless we're certain that it is safe and it is sound," said Ray.
While Goldman says FDOT was under a lot of pressure to get the bridge open before this weekend’s Florida/Georgia game, he credits the incentive built in to the contractor for getting the work done quickly. The contractor is awarded $50,000/day up to $500,000 for completing the work ahead of the 40 day deadline. Goldman says the contractor will likely receive the full incentive.
And for that bill, as well as the $1.07 million contract for the work, inspection fees, design costs and other related charges all combined totaling roughly $3 million, Goldman says they will seek to recover the costs from the party responsible for the closure.