Year in Review 2014: Longboat Pass Bridge damaged, Town may be held liable

In December of 2014, the town learned that the Longboat Pass Bridge had been damaged. As a result, the Town of Longboat Key may face a lawsuit from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) subcontractor, Infrastructure Corporation of America. FDOT maintains that the town’s drilling of a new water line caused cracks and loss of structural integrity in the support columns of the Longboat Pass Bridge. Longboat Pass Bridge connects northern Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island. The town has been put on legal notice by Infrastructure Corporation of America, an entity that is hired to repair and maintain the Longboat Pass Bridge.

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale asked the commission at the Dec. 10 workshop to approve the retention of special council to deal with what she characterized as “imminent litigation” and “multiple complex litigation issues.”

Commissioner Lynn Larson protested the request, “I believe there’s no damage in us waiting until January and getting the status then.” Larson said attorneys are in the business to bill hours and the more attorneys that get involved the more likely reasons will be established for them to proceed and start costing the town money.

The issue at hand centers around cracks in the bridge that appeared in late October of 2014. On Oct. 24, the Longboat Pass drawbridge was not working correctly due to the bridge span shifting. That forced the closure of the bridge and large vessels on that day were unable to access the Gulf of Mexico through Longboat Pass.

According to FDOT spokesman, the issue is the shifting of the bridge’s foundational pilings. FDOT is still investigating and monitoring to make sure the bridge structures are not continuing to shift.

Diving crews including FDOT engineers determined that the concrete supports of the bridge had shifted about two inches and did not allow the pins which held the drawbridge in place to release, in order for the drawbridge to be raised. Subsequently, Longboat Key has been put on notice by the FDOT that there is a “cause for action” and that the town may be held liable for activities that led to the damage to the bridge. Primarily, the most recent activity the town has undertaken is the installation of a water line underneath the bridge and town contractors were drilling at the period of the bridge closure. And according to town Public Works Department, the new water pipe is being installed to update the old water supply line that the town utilizes as its main drinking supply.

The litigation may grow complex because the town relied on engineers to determine how and where to drill its water pipe, who may be liable for the cost of repairs or for the structural damage of the bridge.

The town hired Tampa engineering firm, CDM Smith, which through a contractor set in place the methodology of horizontal directional drilling through the sand, limestone and rock that lay about 50 feet below the bottom of the bay. CDM Smith designed the depth and angle of entry for the drill and the contractor pulled a 16-inch in diameter carrier pipe that will soon be connected to Longboat’s water supply from Manatee County. The old water supply pipe, which is still being utilized, is directly attached to the current drawbridge and is not underground.

According to Public Works Director Juan Florensa, the town contractor was drilling when FDOT noticed the bridge span was shifting upwards. They agreed to stop the job for a couple of days while the bridge was repaired temporarily and the town has since completed the drilling and pipe installation.

Another issue is whether the town’s insurance will pay for special counsel or covers the cost of any defense or any settlement.

The drawbridge was opened to allow the marine traffic on Oct. 31, seven days after it jammed.



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