Lane closures coming: Four years of road rage ahead


It’s going to be a long four years, and it will feel even longer as thousands of new residents move into the Vero area.

More new homes. More new drivers. More cars crossing the busiest bridge to the island – on two fewer lanes.

That’s what’s coming to our community, starting with the September arrival of state-hired work crews that will begin the latest round of repairs to the troubled 17th Street Bridge – a multi-faceted project that includes rebuilding the eastern end of the span and won’t be completed before the summer of 2028.

And all we can do is prepare ourselves for the inevitable traffic congestion, adjust our travel routines when possible and try to make the best of a bad situation.


It was just 14 months ago that the Florida Department of Transportation put the finishing touches on the most recent repairs to the county’s southernmost bridge, after a May 2020 inspection found crumbling concrete and rusting metal supports exposed on the underside of the easternmost section of the span, which was deemed “structurally deficient.”

That project – which was supposed to take six months to complete but lasted more than two years – required reducing bridge’s four lanes of traffic to one in each direction and resulted in daily backups, especially during our busy season’s daytime hours.

We also saw heavier traffic on the Barber Bridge, as many local motorists tried to avoid the construction-related congestion on the 17th Street Bridge.

Look for the traffic snarls to be worse this time.

“It’s certainly not going to be better,” Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls said last week.

“It’ll be like it was before, when the temporary work was done, except with more people.

“We know there are going to be traffic delays on the 17th Street Bridge, because we have them already, but those delays will be noticeably longer during the heart of the season,” he added. “As a result, we know people who can use the Barber Bridge will use it, even if it’s a little out of the way.

“This project is going to impact both bridges, and it’s going to carry through four winter seasons.”

All while the area continues to grow.

Indian River County’s population, which was just under 160,000 when the 2020 census was taken, has already surpassed 165,000 and continues to climb toward 170,000. We can expect it to be in the neighborhood of 175,000 by the time the work crews pack up their trucks.

Falls said 22,000 vehicles cross the 17th Street Bridge each day, and that another 20,000 cross the Barber Bridge. Those numbers aren’t likely to decrease, despite the project, nor is the traffic on A1A along the stretch between the bridges.

“There’s only one lane in each direction,” Falls said, “so we’re going see delays there, too.”

We already do, even during the slower summer months and with both of Vero’s bridges operating at full capacity. Take away two lanes and add a few thousand more motorists, and we’ve got the makings of a traffic nightmare.

But at least the 17th Street Bridge won’t be shut down.

Confronted with a choice – closing the bridge entirely and finishing the job in 2 years and 9 months, or keeping open two lanes and completing the project in four and a half years – the Vero Beach City Council unanimously voted last week to approve the partial closure.

“At the end of the day, you have to pick the least-worst option, and the least-worst option is to leave one lane open on each side,” Council member Tracey Zudans said at last Tuesday’s meeting. “I hate that solution, too, but you have to do it.”

To do otherwise would’ve been as irresponsible as it is inane.

Can you imagine the traffic disaster – not to mention the outrage from residents of the island’s southern half – if the council had told FDOT to shut down the bridge completely?

Sending more than 42,000 vehicles per day over the Barber Bridge?

For nearly three years?

“We would get a lot more complaints if the bridge were closed completely,” Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said. “Even with both bridges fully open, we get complaints about drivers cutting through residential side streets to avoid the backups on A1A, heading south toward Beachland Boulevard.

“Some access is better than none, even if it’s just one lane each way,” he added. “Not only do we have the northbound traffic coming up from St. Lucie County on A1A, but we’ve got St. Edward’s School and a Fire Rescue station on the southern part of the island.

“We’ve also got a Fire Rescue station next to the Barber Bridge, and those first responders would have to deal with the increased traffic there.”

Potentially adding to the traffic mess are the planned development of the Three Corners site and relocation of the city’s wastewater-treatment plant, both of which are located at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge.

Falls said the city will monitor the situation and adjust accordingly, but he was quick to add: “This is an FDOT project, so FDOT and its contractor will be responsible for traffic control.”

For those who don’t know: This $22.3 million project, which includes replacing the eastern 400 feet of the bridge and sealing the full length of the span’s surface, was initially scheduled to begin this past May and end during the spring of 2026.

The start date was delayed – purportedly because of supply-chain issues – and the work will now begin deep into an Atlantic hurricane season that could further delay the project.

The reconstruction became necessary to address the deterioration of the concrete at the bridge’s east end, some of which sits below the water line and has been compromised by the salty environment.

FDOT awarded the project to Vecellio & Grogan Inc., the same West Virginia-based contractor hired to build a new North Causeway Bridge in Fort Pierce. There, the existing bridge will remain intact while the new one is under construction. Work began in May and is scheduled to be completed in 2027.

The timeline of the Fort Pierce project prompted an obvious question from Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno: Why can the same contractor build a new bridge in Fort Pierce in less time than it will take to rebuild a 400-foot section of our bridge?

Paul Lampley, FDOT’s transportation operations director for our district, said time needed to be built into the schedule to accommodate the relocation of AT&T and Comcast utility cables and equipment currently on the bridge.

In addition, he said, Florida Power & Light transmission lines on the bridge must be “de-energized multiple times” during the project.

“The utility work,” Lampley said, “adds over a year to the overall schedule.”

According to FDOT, the project will be completed in two phases, with the westbound lanes to be demolished and reconstructed first.

As for the other obvious question – Why is our bridge in such need of repair? – Falls said construction standards at the time it was built didn’t require “high-strength concrete.”

The good news? Falls said FDOT officials have told him that once this job is done, the bridge should remain usable through 2054.

First, though, we’ve got to get through the next four and a half years.

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