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Oakleaf Overpass Closed During Culvert Construction

Construction workers from Superior Construction Company Southeast work on replacing the culvert underneath the Oakleaf overpass in Clay County on Wednesday, Feb. 11.
Construction workers from Superior Construction Company Southeast work on replacing the culvert underneath the Oakleaf overpass in Clay County on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

A routine inspection of a Clay County culvert found deteriorations that caused the immediate closure of the Oakleaf overpass on Plantation Oaks Boulevard on Jan. 29, affecting thousands who use it every day.

The culvert, a concrete tunnel that runs water under the road, was built by developers east of State Road 23 in 2002. Both the culvert and the overpass are maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation because they are located near State Road 23.

Although the overpass is not damaged, the weight of cars driving on it could affect the culvert underneath, FDOT spokeswoman Gina Busscher said. The original materials used to build it were not right, she also said.

Construction began Feb. 5 after Superior Construction Company Southeast was awarded a $1.2 million contract to repair the culvert within 60 days. There is a financial incentive to complete the project in 45 days or less.

Contractors pulled up the old three-tunnel-wide culvert and completely replaced it. They then poured concrete over the surface and leveled it out.

As of Feb. 20, project manager Gene Howard said the project was about 75 percent complete and is expected to be finished in three weeks. The newly constructed concrete cast adheres to FDOT standards.

Howard said the culvert was in place for only 12 years when FDOT inspectors found problems with it. He hadn't ever seen one deteriorate so quickly. Water was found inside and they had to tear it out, he said.

“The bottom of the top slab was falling off,” Howard said. “If it had continued to deteriorate, the culvert could have collapsed.”

Fazil Najafi, a University of Florida expert in construction management, said the life of a culvert spans about 20 to 30 years, and many factors can contribute to its deterioration, especially the maintenance and surrounding soil. It needs to be checked regularly just like a car, he said.

“If contractors put materials that are lousy, it must be taken care of before its completely destroyed,” Najafi said.

FDOT inspects state-owned bridges every two years. Weather conditions and salt water can cause them to gradually lose strength over the years, FDOT spokesman Ron Tittle said. Those factors can deteriorate the concrete and steel.

Ross Hammock, engineers section manager of the District 2 bridge maintenance office, said he thinks a culvert's environment could affect it, but he isn't sure what caused such a quick deterioration.

If steel is exposed, rust forms and causes expansion. Once it expands, concrete starts to crack. Heavy vehicles can put stress on it, but the Oakleaf overpass doesn't see heavy trucks. Hammock thinks the problem has more of an environmental explanation. Acidic soil could be possible, he said.

Samples of the old culvert are being investigated by the State Materials Office. The deterioration could be due to corrosion of structural steel, he said, but it may be a while before the information is released.

The inspection reports from FDOT are not public records and the exact deficiencies were redacted from the report, Tittle said.

“State Road 23 is not typical,” Hammock said. “Without the investigation being complete, we don't know what happened.”

For the thousands who use the overpass every day, the construction's completion could not come soon enough.

Jacksonville resident Thiara Colombani took the Oakleaf overpass on her daily commute until it was shut down. Her daughter attends school on Knight Boxx Road, but Colombani still ends up driving through Argyle Forest Boulevard and State Road 23.

The added traffic due to the overpass closure puts her behind about 15 minutes, if not more, most days.

“It definitely makes it harder for my commute,” Colombani said.

Nate Warmouth, an assistant principal at Oakleaf High School, said the adjustment has been a nightmare, but the school district is providing students, who used to walk the overpass, with a shuttle system. It picks them up at 6:50 a.m from the Oakleaf Athletic Fields East.

Four bus routes also pick students up 15 minutes earlier and the school adjusted class schedules to be flexible with the students' tardies.

Mika Garcia, 16, is one of thousands of students from the three schools who are affected by the construction's detour. She lives about a mile away from Oakleaf High School and used to think waking up at 5:45 a.m was early. Now she has to leave by 6:15 a.m. to make it in time for first period at 7:20 a.m. She said she just wants the culvert to be fixed.

Instead of taking the Oakleaf overpass on Plantation Oaks BoulevardGarcia's mother must now drive through Oakleaf Village Parkway to Boulevard continue on to Oakleaf Plantation Parkway and go around the roundabout to head to Plantation Oaks Boulevard.

Tenley is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org