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High-tech equipment tested on Miami drawbridge in effort to save lives

Miami bridge equipped with computers, lasers to aid bridge tenders
Fifth Street drawbridge in Miami with high-tech sensors
Posted at 6:06 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 18:42:42-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Contact 5 has learned Florida Drawbridges, Inc., the company contracted with the Florida Department of Transportation to manage the Royal Park Bridge where 79-year-old Carol Wright fell to her death, is testing a possible high-tech solution to prevent another tragedy.

Contact 5 traveled to the edge of downtown Miami, along the Miami River, where the Fifth Street bridge is equipped with computers and lasers to aid bridge tenders.

Engineer Ilya Presman said he collaborated with Florida Drawbridges, Inc. in developing the safety system, which he said can save lives.

"If there is somebody on the bridge, the bridge cannot raise, cannot open," Presman said. "This system removes sole dependence on tenders. It does everything automatically."

Engineer Ilya Presman
Engineer Ilya Presman discusses the technology being used on the Miami drawbridge.

Presman explained how it uses lasers and artificial intelligence to prevent a bridge tender from raising a span if a person or movable object is on it.

"We had a few cases where people were actually walking on the bridge when the bridge was about to start opening," Presman said. "The bridge was stopped."

The safety system is currently being tested by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

Incidents uncovered by Contact 5 repeatedly found bridge tenders did not see the person on the span.

Sensors on Fifth Street bridge in Miami equipped with computers and lasers to aid bridge tenders
Sensors on the Fifth Street bridge in Miami that have computers and lasers to aid bridge tenders.

West Palm Beach police charged bridge tender Artissua Paulk last week with manslaughter in the death of Carol Wright. Police said she failed to visually check the bridge before opening it.

"We are so sorry about what happened, really sorry about all of this," Paulk's mother told Contact 5 over the phone Tuesday. "If my daughter could change it, she would because she never would have made that mistake."

Paulk and her supervisor, Kathie Harper, who is her boyfriend's mother, were both fired from Florida Drawbridges, Inc. for violating company policy according to a statement from an attorney representing the company.

State Sen. Lori Berman discusses new bridge technology
State Sen. Lori Berman believes the state could spend the money needed to put the technology on more bridges.

State Sen. Lori Berman, who sits on the Senate's Transportation Committee, said she is talking to the Florida Department of Transportation.

"They said they are aware of the sensors and they're going to be looking into whether they're going to be able to be used in the state and in what manner," Berman said. "We need to use the best technology, whatever it is."

The safety system would cost the state thousands of dollars per bridge per month.

FDOT tells Contact 5 if the pilot project in Miami goes well, it may expand the life-saving technology to other bridges.

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