Our Town with William Kelly: Southern Boulevard Bridge to open to traffic next week

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  August 25, 2022

(An earlier version of this article did not specify the correct date of the bridge opening.)

After more than five years of construction, the new Southern Boulevard Bridge will open to drivers and pedestrians on Thursday, Sept. 1, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

The traffic switch from the temporary bridge to the new drawbridge will be completed by 6 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, the DOT said. While travel lanes on the bridge will be open in each direction, the bridge’s north sidewalk will remain closed. Southern Boulevard traffic will be shifted to the south.

The new $97 million bridge, which replaces an earlier version built in 1950, is one of three spans that link Palm Beach with West Palm Beach.

Mayor Danielle Moore said news of the opening is a cause for celebration throughout the town.

“Everybody will be excited to know that there will be a free flow of traffic over the Southern Boulevard Bridge for the upcoming season,” Moore said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am. This is the longest bridge project I’ve ever seen.”

To prepare for the switch from the temporary bridge to the permanent bridge, traffic personnel will direct eastbound and westbound traffic on Southern Boulevard between Washington Road and east of the drawbridge from 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, until 6 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1.

Police officers will direct traffic at the intersections of Flagler Drive and Southern Boulevard and at Washington Road and Southern Boulevard as traffic signals are modified, the DOT said. Marine traffic will not be impacted.

Construction on the bridge replacement project began in April 2017 and will last until early 2023, the DOT said. Workers still must dismantle and remove the temporary bridge that accommodated traffic while the new permanent replacement was being built.

The project includes replacing the existing drawbridge and tide relief bridge over the Lake Worth Lagoon between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. New decorative lighting, pedestrian features, traffic signals, signage and drainage are included. The new bridge has a vertical clearance of 21 feet, which is four feet taller than the old bridge. The navigable channel is also being widened to 125 feet.

At one point, construction had been anticipated for completion in the summer of 2021. But completion was rescheduled for the fall of 2021, and then the summer of 2022.

The delay was caused by a problem with the mechanism that operates the movable spans of the drawbridge, the DOT said in December. A shaft gear had to be remade and replaced. The procurement time for materials had also lengthened, contributing to the delay, said Angel Streeter Gardner, project spokeswoman.

The cost of the project was revised upward by $4 million to $97 million, the DOT said last year.

Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association, welcomed news of the bridge’s opening.

“This has taken a lot longer than any of us thought, but it’s nearly finished and we’re very happy about it,” Wright said. “We needed it to be done and I’m glad to see it finished with no issues, damage or injuries, that I am aware of.”

Donald Singer, co-chairman of the Citizens’ Association of Palm Beach, said an earlier estimate that the bridge could be completed in three years proved overly optimistic. Speaking on behalf of himself and co-chairman Skip Aldridge, and the association’s board of directors, Singer said five years was a long time to wait.

“It’s been an eyesore for the last couple of years,” Singer said. “We are pleased it’s going to open and be state-of-the-art and we hope it’s safe and clear sailing.”

With the completion of the Royal Park (middle) Bridge in 2005, and the Flagler Memorial (north) Bridge in 2017, the new Southern Boulevard Bridge means all three spans leading to and from town are relatively new, Moore said.

“Residents should be thrilled,” Moore said.

 

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