Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Public safety

Gulf-to-Bay at U.S. 19 reopens two days after accident

CLEARWATER — After being shut down for two days, Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard at the U.S. 19 intersection reopened early Thursday.

And that was good news for workers whose jobs had turned into nightmares since two semitrailer trucks hit a sagging girder nearly two days before.

At a Jimmy John's restaurant just east of the intersection, employee Josh Knarich, 22, said deliveries had been delayed to the store and business dried up.

Drivers had to find cumbersome alternate routes to deliver sandwiches, often adding up to 40 minutes to the normal delivery time, Knarich said.

Outside, Vincent Eady, 47, sweated in the sun as he unloaded supplies for the store. The Sysco worker had been off Tuesday and Wednesday, but he had heard horror stories from his fellow drivers.

"I'm glad I was off," Eady said. Another driver told him it had taken 30 minutes to drive less than a half-mile between deliveries on Gulf-to-Bay.

The closed intersection created traffic backups Wednesday as motorists sought alternate routes around one of the busiest intersections in Pinellas County. Gulf-to-Bay was shut down Tuesday afternoon after the trucks hit the girder on a closed U.S. 19 overpass, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

That old overpass was already closed to traffic. It was slated for demolition next week, because U.S. 19 traffic had already been moved to a new overpass as part of the ongoing road reconstruction.

By Wednesday afternoon, DOT officials said they had removed two of the four girders on the old bridge. It was taking about five hours to remove each girder. They originally planned to remove the damaged girder last, but decided to take it down next because it was sagging more and presented a hazard.

As for why the two trucks hit the overpass, investigators measured the trucks and found that they were not too high. Witnesses say the girder that was hit had started to sag before the crash, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

The old bridge was last inspected in March and no problems were found.

An investigation into the accident is continuing.

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