Truck traffic from beach restoration should not jeopardize bridges

VERO BEACH — While hundreds of dump trucks a day ferrying sand up and down highwayA1A seem certain to increase this winter’s traffic congestion, county engineers insist it will not cause significant damage to the bridges that lead to the  island or to beachside roads.

Both the Vero Beach City Council and the Indian River Shores Town Council have expressed concern in recent days over the Indian River County Commission’s vote to turn to inland sand mines – instead of the customary off-shore pumping – to replenish a 6.5 mile stretch of island beach.

The approach approved by the County Commission means 26,000 dump-truck loads of sand will be coming over the 17th Street, Merrill Barber and Wabasso Causeway bridges and onto highway A1A. But according to newly-promoted County Public Works Director Chris Mora, who has served as the county’s traffic engineer for more than a decade, the truck traffic will amount to less than one-third of the truck volume seen in the past from residential construction.

The best estimate right now is that work will start around January 15,meaning there will be a huge push to finish  the project before May 1, when turtle nesting season starts. That leaves about 14 weeks from mid-January to the end of April for 480,000 cubic yards of sand to be trucked from three different sand mines and dumped onto our beaches.

If work goes on as scheduled from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days per week for 14 weeks, that’s about 370 trucks per day or 37 per hour (one about every two minutes) coming over the bridges and converging on the five staging areas of Treasure Shores Park, Golden Sands Park, Wabasso Beach Park, Turtle Trail and the Sea Grape Trail beach access areas.

In traffic engineering terms, this converts to a Truck Factor of 1 or 2. “A few years ago during the high, we had a Truck Factor of 5 or 6 on the bridges,” Mora said. “So a 1 or 2 is well below that.”

Mora said a steady Truck Factor of 1or 2, even over a period of several months, would not reduce the life span of our bridges or cause traffic snags. Span bridges have a life span of at least50 years, longer if they are properly maintained or enhanced during that period.

The bridges, which are owned and maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation, are inspected at two year intervals and all three bridges have been found to be structurally sound. Mora said the resurfacing of the Wabasso Bridge will be completed within 30 days, well before the start of trips by the beach re-nourishment trucks.

Mora conceded that sand trucks may have to back into the Turtle Trail and Sea Grape Trail beach access areas, which would necessitate a flagger to stop traffic while the trucks back in. But, he said, the interval between trucks would allow more than enough time for traffic to “recover” in between trucks.

Another concern was expressed by Vero Beach Councilman Bill Fish, who said he was worried about the trucks spilling sand all over the bridges and onA1A during their trek to the worksite. Mora discounted this as well.

“Open trucks are all required to have a covering to prevent the sand spilling out and dump trucks, as these will be, have a retractable covering going over the top, so there shouldn’t be a problem with the sand spilling,” he said.

The Town of Indian River Shores has directed Town Manager Robert Bradshaw to draft letters to the Department of Transportation and to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about the traffic implications of the project and the anticipated “carbon footprint” of having trucks traveling approximately 954,000 miles on the roads instead of pumping in the sand from offshore.

“I was disappointed that the County Commission disregarded the recommendation of the Beaches and Shores Advisory Committee, disregarded the lowest bid and disregarded the best environmental solution, which would have been the off-shore sand,” said Indian River Shores Town Council Member Mike Oschner, who serves on the county’s Beaches and Shores Preservation Advisory Committee.

Vice Mayor Bill Ahrens said he is quite skeptical about the upland sand choice.

“I was on the Beaches and Shores committee for six years and you would have never considered upland sand,” he said. “That would have never passed with DEP.”

While the local legislative delegationhas promised to throw its collective politicalweight behind an effort in Tallahasseeto expedite permitting of the useof upland sand, the question of whethera quick okay can be obtained remains tobe seen.

However, the county did save $1.7million by choosing the upland sandprovider Ranger Construction, at $7.2million, over Great Lakes Dredging,which had bid $8.9 million to pump insand from a few miles off-shore.

But Council Member Oschner is onewho doesn’t think this was a smart idea.”The off-shore sand doesn’t impactour highways and it could have all beendone in 30 to 45 days,” he said. “I’m extremelydisappointed with the commissioners.”

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