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Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - The Florida East Coast Railway Bridge Downtown is scheduled for rehabilitation work from January-March. A complaint about the project's schedule was presented Wednesday to the City's Waterways Commission.
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 15, 201112:00 PM EST

Rail repairs mean boaters face Downtown bridge closing

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Ongoing maintenance of the Florida East Coast Railway Bridge Downtown has created waves in the boating community.

Access to the St. Johns River Downtown would be greatly reduced during the rehab project from January-March.

Lamb’s Yacht Center CEO Downing Nightingale notified the City’s Waterways Commission Wednesday of his complaint sent to the U.S. Coast Guard.

He is concerned about the planned Friday-Tuesday closing of the railway bridge during its rehab project scheduled Jan. 13-March 24.

Florida East Coast Railway has requested permission from the Coast Guard to close the bridge to navigation daily from 7-11:30 a.m. and 12:30-5 p.m.

“Along the Jacksonville Marina Mile on the Ortega River alone, there are over 1,000 boats with roughly 90 percent of them affected by this closing restriction,” said Nightingale.

“But more than that, this closing affects all the boats on the St. Johns River south of Downtown Jacksonville for over 150 miles, all the way to Sanford,” he said.

City Dockmaster Jim Suber was asked about his observations.

“Friday is a big day for recreational boating,” said Suber.

The Waterways Commission agreed to send a resolution to the Coast Guard opposing an outright closure of the bridge and supporting a work schedule that would keep the railway bridge open from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday.

“I think that is a good compromise and shows that we are not unreasonable,” said City Council member John Crescimbeni, vice chairman of the commission.

The schedule has not been confirmed by Coast Guard Seventh District Cmdr. Rear Adm. William Baumgartner, so there is time to negotiate the schedule, said Coast Guard Bridge Operations Section Chief Michael Lieberum.

“We requested he not sign off on it so we could address the concerns of the community,” said Lieberum.

Lieberum was surprised by Nightingale’s complaint because Florida East Coast Railway had done repairs in November and not received any complaints before the project started.

The railway replaced some wooden railroad ties in November on the more than 100-year-old structure that has undergone a regular repair schedule.

The next project will include replacing cover plates that support the structure on top of the bridge and sit between the steel beams and the wooden ties.

FEC notified the Coast Guard that the work cannot be done at night and it needs to work five days each week to meet the January-March schedule.

Lieberum also said that it will be impossible to please everyone.

Closing the bridge Friday-Tuesday has the least impact on commercial boating, but a higher impact on recreational boating. A Monday-Friday closing has the most impact on commercial boating and the least impact on recreational boating.

“It’s inconvenient for everybody. There’s nothing we can do to satisfy everybody,” said Lieberum.

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