Flagler Memorial Bridge now open to traffic

PALM BEACH, Fla. - After being closed the last few days, drivers can now use the Flagler Memorial Bridge to get from Palm Beach to West Palm Beach.

Crews removed the barricades just after 6 p.m. Thursday.

The Florida Department of Transportation says the bridge is safe.  Officials want to minimize wear and tear, so the drawbridge will only open once an hour.

The bridge was closed to traffic earlier this month after a mechanical malfunction.

After an inspection, engineers discovered the bridge had settled -- or sank -- more than two inches since last year.

James Wolfe, a regional secretary for FDOT, said the bridge was "sound" and "safe" for traffic, but that major construction of a replacement bridge would be suspended until May 1.

"We can't afford another inch of settlement. I just really don't believe that the bridge would be operable and salvageable if we get another inch. Certainly, not if we get another two inches," Wolfe said. "So, we are going to be very carefully looking at the method of operation of the contractor and we expect that we will be changing those requirements."

Wolfe said FDOT would work with engineers to modify the construction of the foundation of the replacement bridge to reduce vibrations during construction.

Additional crews and equipment may be added in May to make up for six months of lost time due to these problems, Wolfe said.

After it reopens, the bridge will open for boat traffic once an hour instead of twice an hour to prevent wear and tear on its mechanical system.

Robert Fescharek, a dock master at the Palm Beach Yacht Club, said that would create additional problems if more boats had to pass the aging bridge at the same time.

"What happens here is we're going to get a big surge and it's going to push the boat away from the dock and then it's going to come racing toward the dock," Fescharek said. "The danger for people? Well, the divers in the water here -- at low tide -- if a boat comes by real fast and they're under the boat they're going to end up getting squashed by the boat. It's going to lift the boat up and drop it right on them."

The construction delay will add millions of dollars to cost of new bridge, which is still expected to open in 2016, according to FDOT.

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