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Our Town with William Kelly: Southern Boulevard Bridge completion delayed until summer 2022

The Southern Boulevard Bridge replacement is costing more to build and taking longer to complete than originally expected.

The anticipated completion date has been moved forward to the summer of 2022, the Florida Department of Transportation said. It had been projected for the summer of 2021, then shifted to this past fall.

But the drawbridge over the Intracoastal Waterway and companion tide relief bridge over the Lake Worth Lagoon are expected to be open to traffic in the spring, the DOT said.

The completion delay has been caused by a problem with the mechanism that operates the movable spans of the new drawbridge between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. A shaft gear needs to be remade and replaced before the DOT can approve the new bridge. The procurement time for materials has lengthened, causing the completion delay, said Angel Streeter Gardner, project spokeswoman.

Since construction began in April 2017, the estimated cost of the project has been revised upward by $4 million to a total of $97 million.

“Unforeseen issues discovered during construction resulted in the gradual increase in project cost,” Gardner said. “The unforeseen issues occurred throughout the life of the project and included unanticipated geological issues with installing the bridges’ drill shaft foundations as well as prepping and demobilizing for hurricanes.”

Gardner said the problem with the mechanism that operates the movable spans was not a factor in the cost increase. “The shaft gear replacement will occur with no additional cost to the department,” she said.

Work is nearing completion on the tide relief bridge, which is the low-level fixed bridge on the Palm Beach side of the Lake Worth Lagoon.

The new drawbridge and tide relief bridge will each carry one lane of traffic in each direction. Both lanes on each of the two bridges are anticipated to be open to traffic in the spring, Gardner said.

Boater access will be maintained through the navigable waterway, though half of the channel may be closed to accommodate installation of the new shaft gear, she said.

Work continues on the bridge tender house and with the installation of electrical equipment, railing and other decorative features on the drawbridge.

Both bridges will have six-foot-wide sidewalks in each direction and 10-foot-wide paved shoulders with seven-foot-wide bicycle lanes.

The drawbridge will have a vertical clearance of 21 feet, which is four feet taller than the old bridge. The navigable channel will be widened to 125 feet.

Roadway and causeway approaches are also being reconstructed.

Two temporary bridges were built just north of the replacement tide relief bridge and drawbridge to maintain traffic during the construction.

New construction features include the tender house, a quieter bridge deck, pedestrian overlooks and decorative lighting.

Built in the 1950s, the Southern Boulevard Bridge was the last of three bridges connecting West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. The new Flagler Memorial (north) Bridge was completed in 2017 and the new Royal Park Bridge was completed in 2005.