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Wabasso bridge safety solution in sight

STORY BY SAMANTHA BAITA (Week of November 4, 2021)

A happy ending looks promising – at least in concept – for the Wabasso Causeway high span, where work halted last month on a bike and pedestrian safety project following complaints from north island residents concerned about the aesthetics of the original chain-link fence design.

But it’s unclear who will complete the job, as the contractor that had started the Florida Department of Transportation project announced this past week that it was going out of business.

Vertical posts had already been installed east and westbound across the high span last month, before residents became aware of the project details and realized the chain-link fence would significantly obstruct the iconic river views. FDOT received a flood of more than 150 complaints, mainly from Town of Orchid residents, and supported by other north island communities.

Orchid Mayor Bob Gibbons and other community leaders held phone and Zoom meetings with state officials to discuss their concerns and request that the state re-evaluate the project and seek a more aesthetically pleasing solution to the safety problem the narrow bridge poses for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Ordering a pause in work, FDOT engineers quickly explored multiple projects from across the country, honing in on a crash-tested alternative to the view-obstructing original plan in a design employed by the  California  Department of Transportation.

The California option, which is receiving strong support from Orchid and other island communities, would be paid for with an estimated $880,000 in funds already available. The original chain-link fencing was slated to cost approximately $180,000.

The proposed solution would feature three smooth, galvanized-steel safety railings, treated with a long-lasting zinc-rich coating mounted on the back of the existing concrete barrier. Only two railings would be clearly visible from the bridge, with the bottom railing hidden behind the existing barrier. The completed height from the road deck to the top of the railing would be 48 inches.

Although the FDOT had hoped to complete the project by year’s end, the time frame has become substantially trickier for a couple of reasons. The current global supply chain issues could delay the manufacture and delivery of the project’s custom-fabricated steel posts and rails.

Additionally, according to Kris Kehres, FDOT Treasure Coast Operations Engineer, the job contractor, DBi Services LLC, a multimillion-dollar asset management and infrastructure company serving cities and counties nationwide, informed him at 4 p.m. on Oct. 22 that they were immediately ceasing operations.

 The DBi website confirmed Oct. 25 that “due to continuing operating and financial challenges and sudden, unexpected setbacks, particularly the decision of its primary lender to discontinue all funding, the Company determined that a wind-down to substantially all of its business is necessary at this time.”

While FDOT and north island communities are in accord on the California option, some safety questions remain from the leadership of the county’s Bike Walk Indian River County Inc., a proactive all-volunteer non-profit that promotes safe biking and walking, which will continue discussions with FDOT.