State: University Parkway at I-75 could reopen partially Tuesday morning for rush hour

Herald staff writersJanuary 27, 2014 

MANATEE -- The Interstate 75-University Parkway interchange has been partially reopened after a traffic accident sent concrete pieces of the highway down onto University Parkway.

The left southbound lane of I-75 has been reopened, according to Florida Highway Patrol.

Both directions of University Parkway remained closed.

Early Tuesday, the Florida Department of Transportation provided an update.

"Tonight traffic in the outside southbound lane may exit I-75 at the interchange and travel across University Parkway to re-enter the interstate southbound. Exiting traffic also may turn right onto University to travel westbound, FDOT said in a news release.

"If repair work overnight proceeds well, one lane eastbound and one lane westbound on University Parkway will open to traffic by rush hour tomorrow (Tuesday) morning."

FDOT continued: "While repair work is underway, motorists should expect congestion on I-75 southbound in this area and plan for delays if their destinations are south of University Parkway. Drivers may want to consider alternate interchanges and/or routes into Manatee and Sarasota Counties. Drivers also may need to use other interchanges to access I-75."

Southbound I-75 was closed after a piece of construction equipment fell off a truck and punched five holes into the concrete deck of the I-75 overpass over University Parkway. Debris rained down onto University Parkway.

Two of the holes were about the size of manhole covers.

All lanes of northbound I-75 remain open.

Earlier, a FHP spokesman said University Parkway would not be reopened any sooner than 2 a.m. Tuesday, and that southbound I-75 could be closed for 24 to 48 hours. Officials were awaiting the arrival of a contractor that would make the needed repairs, said Trooper Kenn Watson.

The first reports of falling debris came in about 11:45 a.m.

Robin Stublen, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said a freight company, Soroa Freight of Tampa, was towing a trailer carrying a steel piling collar, which is used in construction, when the collar bounced out of the trailer.

Officials said the collar, which weighs about 6,000 pounds, bounced several times off the deck of the overpass before coming to rest near a guard rail.

Watson said either another motorist cut off the truck driver or he approached the area at too high a speed. The driver's evasive action, and not because the equipment was improperly secured, caused it to bounce out of the truck.

FHP Lt. Brannon Snead said the driver would be cited, and the company held responsible for the cost of the repairs.

Stublen said I-75 cannot be completely reopened until the damage is repaired.

There have been no reports of injuries.

Trooper Watson said there are three possible detours for motorists on southbound I-75:

-- Exit at State Road 64.

-- Exit at State Road 70.

-- Exit at University Parkway, go west on University, make a U-turn and re-enter I-75.

Both spans of the bridge were built in 1979 and last inspected Oct. 22, 2013, according to FDOT records.

The northbound span also has a health rating of 86.51 and the southbound span has a 98.74 health index. A health index below 85 shows that some repairs are needed, but doesn’t make a bridge unsafe, according to FDOT’s website.

Neither span is considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

The northbound span has a sufficiency rating of 93.4 while the southbound span has a 92.5 sufficiency rating. The sufficiency rating helps determine whether a bridge is structurally deficient, functionally obsolete and whether the bridge should be repaired or replaced.

The southbound I-75 bridge was the site of a 47-car crash on Oct. 6, 2012, injuring 52 people during a sudden rain storm, closing the bridge for about seven hours.

The closure of University Parkway and Interstate 75 is also affecting the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority meeting. Authority member John Stafford, whose FCCI Insurance Group's offices are in Lakewood Ranch, is stuck in traffic trying to make it to the meeting, said Frederick "Rick" Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ airport.

The board is lacking a quorum without Stafford here and cannot vote on action items until he arrives, Piccolo said. Other absent board members, Peter Wish and Leslie Wells, are ill or out of town, he said.

Stafford was directed to get on I-75 north, and then to State Route 70 and make his way down U.S. 301, but that highway is also congested because the interstate traffic is funneling through that corridor, Piccolo said.

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