CAPE CORAL, Fla. — In Southwest Florida, bridges are a way of life.
On average, more than 12.5 million vehicles drive over the nearly 1,000 bridges in Lee, Collier, and Charlotte Counties, according to FDOT records analyzed by Fox 4 Investigates.
“Always crossing one bridge to get to an island or something,” said John Turner, a local construction worker in Collier County.
“A lot of water here in Florida. A lot of bridges.”
A lot is right.
The average commute for drivers in southwest Florida includes six bridges.
State law requires the bridges to be inspected at least every two years, though many are inspected much more frequently depending on a number of factors, including any issues that are found.
To make sure those bridges are safe, Fox 4 Investigates went through the inspection reports of all of the 963 bridges in Lee, Collier and Charlotte Counties.
The good news for drivers, less than 2% of them are considered to be in poor condition.
“In Florida, actually, our bridges are in good shape,” Dr. Atorod Azizinamini.
In fact, field experts say the Sunshine State has some of the safest bridges in the country.
“In Florida, actually, our bridges are in good shape,” said Dr. Atorod Azizinamini, one of the country’s foremost experts on bridge engineering.
“Because it’s a newer state, our bridges were designed, they were constructed, not too many years ago. We also don’t have to salt the roads, that’s always one of the biggest problems.”
Azizinamini, who now serves as the director of Florida International University’s Moss School of Construction, Infrastructure and Sustainability, knows first-hand why it’s so important to stay on top of inspections.
“You can go from one inspection to the next one and see drastic changes,” said Azizinamini.
“For example, if you have steel girders and you have a small crack, all of a sudden that crack grows overnight. That happens.”
Of the nearly one thousand southwest Florida bridge records Fox 4 Investigates examined, only one of them had issues that were deemed to be in “serious” condition.
Inspectors said the deck and superstructure of the bridge on Golden Gate Parkway over the Santa Barbara Canal were “intolerable.”
Though, county officials insist the bridge is still safe.
Construction on a new bridge is expected to start in September and last a year.
“Recent Florida Dept. of Transportation bridge inspection reports recommended some repair items. Based on the cost of repairs and the age of the bridge it was decided to replace the bridge,” Connie Deane with Collier County told Fox 4 Investigates.
The county says there will not be any permanent shutdown of traffic, instead traffic will be reduced to two lanes, one lane in each direction.
According to FDOT records, 10,000 people travel over the bridge every day, including Turner.
“This part (of the bridge) always seemed fine. I never really thought anything of it,” said Turner.
Another major bridge replacement in the works is the Westbound Lanes of the Cape Coral Bridge.
The bridge is currently 58-years-old, eight years past its designed life.
Though inspectors say the bridge is still in fair condition.
More than 37,000 cars a day drive over the WB lanes.
Also in Lee County, officials are finalizing plans to replace the Big Carlos Bridge on the south end of Fort Myers Beach.
That bridge was built 57 years ago.
“By year 2030, 400,000 bridges in the U.S. they’re gonna exceed their 50 year design life," said Dr. Azizinamini.
The aging bridge problem is something Dr. Azizinamini says the whole country will soon have to grapple with.
“By the year 2030, 400,000 bridges in the U.S. they’re gonna exceed their 50-year design life," said Dr. Azizinamini.
To put that into context, that would be two-thirds of all the bridges across the country.
This means we could be seeing a lot more bridge replacements in the coming years.