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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, May 27, 200812:00 PM EST

Is Matthews Bridge safer?

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by: David Ball

by David Ball

Contributing Writer

It’s been seven months since the Florida Department of Transportation finished replacing the steel grating on the Matthews Bridge with concrete, and traffic officials say the $12.9 million improvement has made a huge difference.

“I had received regular complaints about the bridge pretty much on a constant basis,” said Jacksonville DOT spokesman Mike Goldman. “I don’t think I’ve received any complaints since the work was finished.”

But actual numbers of accidents on the bridge, at least those responded to by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, might tell a different story.

According to a report, JSO responded to 62 traffic accidents on the bridge during the six months prior to the start of the detour (when work on the grating started) on April 16, 2007.

But in the six months following the official completion date of the project on Oct. 12, 2007, JSO responded to 66 traffic accidents. During the six months from the start of the detour to the completion date, JSO responded to 41 crashes.

JSO officials wouldn’t give any possible explanations of the statistics, and Goldman said it would be difficult to pinpoint how the grating replacement affected those figures without knowing exactly where on the bridge the crashes occurred, which was not included in the JSO report.

“I don’t think we can intelligently answer that question (why the crash count increase),” said Goldman. “For our purposes, the 810 feet of grating is where the complaints had come. Crash reports can be very tricky, but everybody seems to be satisfied.”

The Florida Highway Patrol also occasionally responds to crashes on the bridge, and spokesman Lt. William Leeper said FHP did not have readily accessible crash reports but anecdotal evidence showed an improvement.

“I know it’s a lot smoother now,” said Leeper. “When the grating was there, the majority of crashes had to do with drivers following too close and stopping suddenly. On that grating, when it’s wet people will slide into another vehicle.

“The concrete seems to be a safer area now than before, which was the goal — to make the bridge safer.”

Carol Burnes works at Legal Art Works on Bay Street and drives across the Matthews several times a week. She said the bridge definitely feels safer with the full concrete span, although that may be giving some drivers a false sense of security.

“I did feel unsafe. I thought other people going anything over 35 miles per hour were crazy,” said Burnes, who added her Jeep with good tire traction still shifted heavily on the grating.

“I drive like a grandma and now I am not as scared to go 40, so I know other people are going a lot faster,” she said. “Plus, you get up there (to the crest of the bridge) and you don’t realize people have slowed down or stopped, and then you could be in trouble.”

The Matthews Bridge opened April 16, 1953 and had the longest span of metal grating of any bridge in Florida when repairs began last year. Goldman said the grating was used to keep costs down in early bridge construction.

But even with the new concrete span, Goldman admits the half-century old bridge still has some safety issues.

“It doesn’t have breakdown lanes and other safety features that modern bridges have,” said Goldman, “and a bridge like that is going to be prone to more crashes than a modern bridge.”

The Matthews is also one of the most heavily used bridges in Jacksonville. DOT records of the past nine years show that an average of 72,000 vehicles a day drove across the bridge in 2006 and 79,500 at its highest count in 2000.

In comparison, the nearby Hart Bridge had 47,000 vehicles a day in 2006 and 59,000 in 2005. Counts on the Main Street Bridge were 32,500 in 2006 and 41,500 at its highest count in 2000. The Acosta Bridge had 28,500 in 2006 and a high count of 48,500 in 1999 and 2002.

When crashes happen

The following statistics shows when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office responded to crashes on the Matthews Bridge six months before the grating repairs, six months during the repair project and six months after.

Hour
of day
before repairs
(62 crashes)
during repairs
(41 crashes)
after repairs
(66 crashes)
2 a.m. - - 2
3 a.m. 1 1 -
6 a.m. 2 - 3
7 a.m. 2 1 4
8 a.m. 6 - 4
9 a.m. 3 3 5
10 a.m. 2 2 6
11 a.m. 2 4 4
noon 4 4 2
1 p.m. 2 5 2
2 p.m. 5 3 3
3 p.m. 5 2 6
4 p.m. 4 4 9
5 p.m. 4 1 4
6 p.m. 5 3 2
7 p.m. 1 - 5
8 p.m. 5 3 2
9 p.m. 3 2 3
10 p.m. 4 3 -
11 p.m. 2 - -
Day of week
Sunday 7 4 9
Monday 10 6 8
Tuesday 4 3 9
Wednesday 9 8 12
Thursday 8 1 12
Friday 13 8 5
Saturday 11 11 11

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