Mathews Bridge Accident Could Have Been Catastrophic


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The Mathews Bridge in Jacksonville, FL was shut down on Thursday afternoon after being hit by a US Navy transport ship that was being towed by tugboats.

Will Watts with the Florida Department of Transportation called the collision a "very surprising, near catastrophic impact. About as bad as you can get."

The Mathews Bridge spans the St. John River. About 56,000 vehicles cross it daily, meaning the closure will result in traffic delays for many in the area. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Assistant Chief Leonard Propper called the closure "the most significant delay the city has seen in a long time."

The bridge will be closed indefinitely as the Florida Department of Transportation assesses the amount of structural damage caused by the collision.

According to a spokesman for the DOT "the part of the bridge that gives the weight support for the traffic... was damaged. That means it can't hold the weight, it can't hold the traffic."

Officials are enforcing a 200-yard safety zone on both sides of the bridge, but lifted the safety zone in the river itself on Thursday night after determining that there was no potential danger to river traffic passing below.

The ship that hit the bridge was identified as USNS 1st Lt. Harry Martin, a former US Marine vessel that was turned over to the Sealift Command. The ship was being moved from Blount Island Marine Command by a third party towing company so the slipway at Blount Island could be dredged.

While the DOT investigates the condition of the Mathews Bridge, the US Coast Guard is investigating who is responsible for the collision.

Rod Sullivan is an experienced maritime attorney who says the Coast Guard needs to be accountable for having approved the passage plan submitted by the towing company. Clearly, the ship's highest point couldn't clear the bottom of the Mathews Bridge.

"I don't see any criminal or civil charges here, particularly in light of the fact that the Coast Guard approved the plan," said Sullivan. "But there is negligence."

Image via Wikimedia Commons