JACKSONVILLE – It makes sense for your immediate thoughts of Florida Department of Transportation construction crews to focus on the men and women you see on the roads. Why wouldn’t it be? The orange vests, traffic cones, and heavy machinery are synonymous with the work that FDOT handles on roadways throughout the state on a daily basis.
Where your thoughts may not stray as quickly to, however, are boats on the water. Because, seriously, what association do road projects and boats have?
More than you would think.
Motorists often see construction crews work on the tops of bridges to ensure they’re safe for travel. What they don’t see as often are the crews under the bridge, inspecting the structure for possible deficiencies.
FDOT District 2 employs a four-man dive team that is responsible for the inspection and upkeep of more than 1,200 state-owned bridges, including six moveable bridges, or drawbridges, in the 18-county district. Bridges are required to be inspected every two years – and Florida’s moveable bridges at least once a year – so it makes sense that the team is out on dives several times a week.
In fact, there are only a few weeks out of the year where the team isn’t on the water.
On a recent afternoon, D2’s dive team – consisting of senior inspector/diver David Heuschkel, Jim Durbin, Justin Knight, and Dan Uzzan – made their way to the current Sisters Creek Bridge on Heckscher Drive in Jacksonville. The current bridge is in the process of being replaced, but is still in use until the new one is completed.
Originally constructed in 1952, the drawbridge requires additional inspections each year due to its age and classification as a structurally deficient, albeit safe, bridge.
The new Sisters Creek Bridge, currently under construction, is expected to be completed next year.
Until then, traffic along Heckscher Drive still flows along the 64-year-old moveable bridge and crews work to ensure the safety of passing motorists.
Inspection methods for the team vary; today they’re using a combination of an electronic check and a physical check.
During the electronic check, the team conducts a hydrographic mapping survey utilizing fixed points around the bascule – or moveable – piers; the team travels in five foot increments, using a device similar to a fish finder, marking their findings. What they’re doing, of course, is comparing the current electronic data results with previous tests, and dating back to the original readings, to determine if the piers are losing fill or aggregation or degradation.
The physical check, of course, is where the team gets to stretch their legs. Suiting up in full dive attire – wetsuit, air tank, flippers, etc. – the team dives into the water, checking the ground line and foundation of the pier for any structural deficiencies and physically looking for undermining on the river bottom. Today the water is a bit murky – visibility is around one foot or 18 inches – so they have to rely on both sight and touch for their inspection.
It’s a very different job than one most associate with work done by FDOT.
For diver Jim Durbin, it’s a way to incorporate a hobby into his career; Durbin began as an inland diver in Ohio before making his way down to Florida.
“I figured the water was warmer down here,” he said, jokingly.
Durbin began his career at FDOT 12 years ago with the intention of turning diving into a career. More than a decade later, he’s glad he did.
“I really didn’t know how it would turn out, but so far, so good,” he said. “I work with some great guys and we do some great work.”