JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- To get anywhere in Jacksonville, you are probably going to have to cross a bridge.
Around 413,000 people are estimated to drive over at least one of Jacksonville's seven main bridges each day, but these legendary landmarks are more than just a way to get from here to there. The iconic Main Street Bridge is the oldest still standing of the seven, opened July 4th 1941.
Twelve years behind it came the John H. Mathews Bridge, originally painted silver and it only cost $11 million to build. 91-year-old Frances Padgett was the first to cross the Mathews Bridge on opening day. FCN spoke to her at the re-dedication of the bridge two years ago.
"We tried for it for so long and when we finally got it, it was like a gift from heaven," told Mrs. Padgett.
The height and original center grating made it a fearful crossing for some. Also, who can forget when it was closed for a month last year after it was hit by a large ship. The Mathews and the Main Street Bridges are listed by F-DOT as "Functionally Obsolete", but FDOT says they are safe.
"It could be just the width of the road itself, it could be the height or it could even be the water level. With the newer boats they have, maybe the water level needs to be a different height to accommodate certain boats today," told Ron Tittle, a spokesman for FDOT.
Dave Heuschkel has been inspecting bridges for FDOT for 19 years. We met up with his team as they checked the large overpass at I-95 and I-295 on the south end of the Jacksonville.
"We sounded the ducts as we went along, just looking for voids and where the grout may have separated or something, but everything was OK," said Heuschkel.
He says bridges with movable parts, like the Main Street Bridge, are checked once a year. The fixed downtown bridges are inspected every two years, which is the state requirement.
"In concrete we look for cracks and exposed steel. In steel we look for cracks and section loss corrosion," he explained.
Overall, Heuschkel says the seven large bridges are strong structures with no serious safety problems.
"The traveling public can be confident that our people are regularly inspecting and keeping up with our bridge structures," told Tittle.
With more than 400,000 people crossing our bridges daily, crashes are bound to happen. In 2014, FHP says it responded to 142 accidents on the Fuller Warren, likely because it is the most heavily traveled bridge. Not surprisingly, the Acosta Bridge, the least traveled bridge, had the fewest accidents. The Dames Point Bridge, once called the "Bridge To Nowhere" because the area north of the bridge had not been developed yet, had 36 accidents last year FHP responded to. The Henry H. Buckman Bridge, the longest bridge in Jacksonville at just over 3 miles had 79 crashes.
Overall the health index of the seven main bridges of Jacksonville is high. The Fuller Warren has the highest rating at 99.3, the Acosta the lowest at 76.4.
So the next time your tires travel over the water, remember you are traveling over history here in Jacksonville.