Ship hits Mathews Bridge, closed 'indefinitely' until repairs are complete

The top of a ship being towed on the St. Johns River has struck and damaged the north end of the Mathews Bridge, which is now indefinitely closed to all traffic in both directions.

Mike Goldman with the Florida Dept. of Transportation describes the damage as "a signficant hit on the bridge" and says the damage occurred to the lower support system for the bridge's road deck.  

The FDOT is conducting extensive inspection of the damage and will begin repairs as soon as possible, but Goldman says allowing any traffic on the bridge while it is damaged would greatly stress the roadway and cause more damage, as well as having the potential to lead to the loss of life.

All traffic approaching the Mathews Bridge in both directions is being routed to the Hart Bridge until further notice.

The Coast Guard identifies the ship that hit the bridge as the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin. The ship is a roll-on, roll-off ship used to transport wheeled and tracked military vehicles such as tanks, Humvees, and trucks.

It's now owned and managed by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC), but it is operated by civilians like the USNS Swift.  There are no sailors or Navy officers on board the ship.

The Coast Guard says the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin was carrying cars at the time of the crash.

Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen tells WOKV the ships are not required to submit plans to the Coast Guard, and the bridges are marked with high-tide numbers.

She also says the Coast Guard will conduct its own investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.  Part of the investigation is an interview with all of the crews involved.  They will all be submitted to drug and alcohol testing, as per normal procedures.

"We take very strong precauations to make sure we don't have accidents like this," says Lietenant Colonel Corey Barker with the U.S. Navy.

Barker says the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin was being transported from its home pier in Jacksonville to the North Florida Ship Yard so its normal dock could have maintenance work done.

He says a ramp used to get cars and other cargo on the ship is what hit the bridge.  It's unclear right now the cost of the damage on the ship.

There are no reports of injuries related to the bridge strike and it is not yet know who owns the tugboat that was towing the barge which caused the damage.

WOKV has pictures of the bridge posted on our gallaery, and you can also track the story on WOKV News via Twitter for the most recent updates on the bridge.

Matthews Bridge Traffic Detour Information from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office:

East/Westbound detours through the downtown area:

Eastbound primary detour route is to the Hart Bridge via the Union St. Expressway to the Sports Complex exit

Westbound primary detour route is to the Hart Bridge via Cesery Blvd to Atlantic Blvd. – motorists should be aware of possible additional delays due to heavy construction

Detours for Arlington, Ft. Caroline, & Regency areas:

I95 North to Zoo Parkway to the Dames Point Bridge

Detours for Southside area:

I95 South to Emerson/University Blvd. exits

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