Ortega Bridge Opens
By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News
Finally. Finally, the Ortega Bridge is back in action. Florida Department of Transportation officials announced in late April that the long closed bridge would be open by May.
“The plan is to open it by the end of the month,” said Mike Goldman, FDOT spokesman . “However, there may be times during the next two months when the bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic for testing of the new electrical system.”
The news of the bridge reopening has local residents and business owners over the moon.
“The closing of the Ortega Bridge has made a noticeable difference in the normal flow of traffic past Philips Garden Store along Herschel Street,” said store owner Dennis Hamilton. “Normally, folks from Ortega would pass by Philips on their way into Riverside, Avondale and even Downtown then back again. The benefits of drive by traffic for our business cannot be underestimated.”
Kay Hazelhurst, director of St. Johns Presbyterian Kindergarten and Day School, said it will be a relief to use a more scenic path in daily driving routine.
“The closing of the bridge has been inconvenient for our parents and teachers who live in Ortega,” she said. “Instead of a lovely, leisurely, scenic drive to school, everyone has been forced to enter the commuter race on Roosevelt — we’ll be happy to see the bridge re-open.”
Tom Turnage owns Turnage Co., which maintains its office on Herschel street about a half-mile from the bridge. He too said it will be nice to enjoy the river views again.
“Being able to use the bridge is, of course, a major convenience — my company has projects on both sides of the river, but it’s also a mindset,” Turnage said. “It’s an integral part of what makes our neighborhood the great
neighborhood that it is. All by itself, it’s more like a park than a structure — I relish the few moments I have with no place to go and nothing to do but gaze at our beautiful river and city. I have really missed those moments.”
Goldman said FDOT expected the bridge work to be complete prior to Christmas. But myriad technical intricacies and specialized mechanical work — coupled with rigorous testing to make sure the bridge would not have be be closed again — kept the bridge out of commission for five months longer than anticipated. The prolonged bridge outage caused headaches for residents accessing Ortega and business owners on both sides of the river.
“The simple problem is the age of the bridge — it was built in 1927 and rebuilt in 1996, it’s just such a specialized structure,” Goldman said. “The best analogy I can give is that it’s like trying to do mechanical work on an antique car.”
Originally slated to cost $3.6 million, the bridge repair expenses now total $4.8 million, Goldman said.
Wiring and electric systems, breaks and the bridge’s gear boxes that open and close the bridge were at the heart of the mechanical problems. Repairs have been made to the bridge’s control driving mechanisms, gears, control panels and brakes and the road has been resurfaced.
“The bottom line is what we’re trying to fix the bridge so it will open and close properly — there have been some lengthy delays because the bridge wouldn’t close during hot weather,” Goldman said. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid here. We want to make sure it’s done correctly so we don’t have to go back at a later date and shut it down again for a long period of time.”