Finally, after almost three years that probably seemed longer to many, the Halls River bridge project is wrapping up.
Given its history of this project, that bears repeating: after almost three years, motorists will no longer have to endure closed lanes, construction cones and one-way traffic.
County Administrator Randy Oliver shared the good news in an email to county commissioners.
“All bridge components are complete,” Oliver wrote, referring to an update from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). “The traffic pattern is now in the substantial completion condition.”
FDOT, he added: “is going down the home stretch.”
And the wrap-up could happen as early as the end of this month, said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.
No one is more excited than the staff of Marguerita Grill, located adjacent to the bridge and in ground zero for the past two years since the restaurant reopened.
Manager Tania Ciccia said many of her regulars would not come during construction, because they were afraid to drive in the mess. Others thought they were closed. Still more couldn’t find the entrance due to the numerous orange cones.
“We’re very excited that we’re going to have a working bridge,” Ciccia said.
This bridge replacement project started in January 2017 and it was supposed to finish by spring 2018.
But workers early on experienced hard layers of weathered limestone. Depressions formed. There were problems with bridge pilings and seawall. Reinforcements for concrete columns had to be installed. The summer rains came.
In March, Astaldi Construction Corporation defaulted on the project and FDOT had to find another contractor to finish the job. Watson Civil Construction completed it.
The federal government, through a grant to FDOT, is footing the bill for the 57-foot wide bridge because of its experimental nature. The $7.6-million cost came in overbudget, but final numbers aren't yet available, Carson said.
It’s made of a rust-resistant hybrid composite beam of glass and concrete fiber-reinforced polymer instead of the usual steel and concrete.
County Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith said he is pleased FDOT paid for it and chose Citrus County to experiment on a new design. But he wishes the agency could have chosen a better bridge to experiment.
Construction the past three years on the Halls River bridge led to serious hardships for residents and business owners who had to put up with delays and congestion.
“I’m not ungrateful, but maybe they should have experimented on a place with multiple access points,” Smith said.
Now that the FDOT will be leaving the project, the county will be financially responsible for its maintenance.
Carson said due to the bridge's experimental design, there will be future testing of the bridge structure through monitoring and lab testing.
"This information will help us determine the future use of constructing bridges with these features," Carson said.