Trucker takes out 399 span

Posted on March 18, 2016 by Mat Pellegrino

A tractor trailer driver forced traffic on U.S. Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze to a standstill last week after his truck clipped the underside of the 399 overpass, causing major damage to the overpass that was constructed nearly have a century ago.
At around 5:15 p.m. last Friday in the middle of rush hour, a driver of a tractor trailer that hauls roll off containers was heading westbound when the top of his trailer hit one of the beams on the State Road 399 overpass.
The truck hit the inside of the third beam heading westbound, which caused the entire concrete support beam to partially break apart.
“He hit the inside, and it busted it right through to the outside,” said Gulf Breeze City Manager Edwin “Buz” Eddy. “He was probably going about 45 mph. He just hit the inside and the force of it knocked out concrete on the other side.”
The crash sent the driver of the truck to an area hospital with unknown injuries.
Traffic, meanwhile, sat at a standstill for several hours while Florida Department of Transportation engineers assessed the damage. Both the east and westbound lanes of Hwy. 98 were immediately closed off at the bridge. The 399 overpass was also temporarily closed off until engineers could figure out the extent of the damage.
“Our structural engineers as well as most of our team from the Milton Operations Center went out to assess the damage as soon as they found out,” said FDOT District 3 spokesman Ian Satter. “The damage was isolated to the bottom part of the beam. So we are going to determine (soon) what course of action needs to be taken on the structure.”
Eddy said the last beam on the bridge heading westbound is the lowest point on the overpass. And that happened to be the beam the driver hit. The overpass’ height restrictions are posted on the bridge.
“If you stand underneath the overpass, the lowest of the panels is the farthest west panel. So if he was traveling east to west, if he comes up on that last one, just because of the slight downward tilt, he hit it,” Eddy said.
The city manager said as far as he can remember, that was the first time the overpass was damaged to that extent. And it’s not the first time it’s been hit by a vehicle.
“It’s been hit before. That’s just the first time the damage has been that severe,” Eddy said.
The city allowed FDOT to take over following the collision to assess the damage. Gulf Breeze Police officers re-routed westbound traffic through St. Francis Drive and through the Publix parking lot. Eastbound traffic was shifted to the Pensacola Beach exit and led around the overpass and back out onto Hwy. 98.
Satter attended an FDOT meeting on Tuesday where they discussed in minor detail the department’s plans for repairs.
Satter said not a lot was determined at the meeting and that FDOT should have more information on their plan of action sometime next week.
“We’re going to have to do repairs on that particular area,” Satter said. “It’s just a matter of determining what lane restrictions and road closures have to take place.
“We’re probably going to start repairs in mid-April. (At the meeting) we discussed our tactic, but we won’t have a more solid plan until sometime next week.”
At that time, FDOT will let the public know what their final plans for the repairs will be.
The FDOT spokesman said the state agency wants to tackle the problem before tourist season kicks off into full swing.
“Obviously it’s Spring Break right now. But we have to determine when we need to get those repairs done by,” Satter said. “It’s still structurally sound. We are just keeping heavier traffic off that part of the roadway for now.”
The overpass was built in 1962, and widened in 1970, according to Satter.