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Friday, September 24, 2021

Alachua County can’t fix bridge that collapsed after Tropical Storm Elsa

The bridge collapsed for a second time after Hurricane Irma in 2017

Water rushes under the collapsed part of Northeast 100th Avenue on Saturday, July 10, 2021. The small bridge’s culverts couldn’t handle the fast-flowing storm water runoff produced by Tropical Storm Elsa.
Water rushes under the collapsed part of Northeast 100th Avenue on Saturday, July 10, 2021. The small bridge’s culverts couldn’t handle the fast-flowing storm water runoff produced by Tropical Storm Elsa.

A bridge in Northeast Alachua County collapsed on July 7 after enduring flooding from Tropical Storm Elsa, and the county is unable to fix it. 

The bridge, located in a neighborhood in Fairbanks at Northeast 100th Avenue off Waldo Road, has a history of needing structural repairs following severe storms. In 2017, the bridge and two others in the neighborhood needed repairs after Hurricane Irma. The bridge allows about 63 residents to enter and leave the neighborhood, as there are no other exits.  

Alachua County spokesperson Mark Sexton said the bridge is privately owned by residents in the neighborhood, so it would be illegal for the county to fix the bridge because it is not on public property.

“We can't do it here any more than we could do it if your roof blew off your house and you didn't have insurance,” he said.

Sexton said although it is illegal to spend taxpayer money on fixing private roads, they do have a program that allows the county to loan money for repairs.

He said the county offered about $1 million in loans to fix all three bridges in 2017, but the neighborhood residents declined and hired a company to build one for a more affordable price, Sexton said. 

“If we're going to build it, we have to build a bridge,” Sexton said. “A real bridge will be there 30 or 40 years from now.”

Noemi Ramos, 65, a resident of the area, was trapped in her home with her 74-year-old husband for five days until a neighbor poured limestone to create a temporary foundation, which was finished Tuesday. 

“It was terrible because we couldn't go out or come in,” she said. She was forced to cancel an infusion appointment she had later that week. 

Ramos said the price of fixing these bridges adds up when you are retired. “I only get $600 a month,” she said.  

Roxanne Eckles-Macdonald, 61, has been a resident of the neighborhood for 35 years. She was not directly affected by the collapse because she lives on 96th Avenue but had a similar experience in 2017. 

The bridge that connects to her street was one of the bridges that collapsed after taking on Hurricane Irma. She said it trapped 10 homes, including hers. 

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“It’s probably some of the worst memories I’ve had,” she said. “I was so terrified that something was going to happen to the bridge and be stuck again.” 

Eckles-Macdonald said she had to walk for almost a year to do her grocery shopping before fixing the bridge. She said she had to pull a cart over the collapsed bridge to unload groceries. 

She said one family had issues getting their kids to school during that time as well.

Eckles-Macdonald said while she lives on a private road, she still pays taxes for public services like emergency responders “like everyone else.”

“I was always scared that somebody would get bit by a snake or there would be something like that and then nobody could get out here,” she said. 

She also said their taxes also go toward county dump stations, and it was hard to move their garbage to the Fairbanks Solid Waste Collection Center due to the collapse. 

After exploring different options, Eckles-Macdonald said all 10 homeowners contributed funds to a company to fix the bridge for $40,000 in 2017. 

Sexton said each bridge was quoted about $300,000 in loans for repairs. Eckles-Macdonald said the residents appreciated the offer, but it was too high. 

Contact Jake Reyes at jreyes@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @frljakereyes.

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