Florida regional partners with Brightline, others to rehab drawbridge

Built in the 1920s, the drawbridge over the St. Lucie River in Stuart, Florida, will be rehabbed to accommodate both freight- and passenger-rail traffic. Brightline

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor 

Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) is working closely with Brightline and other partners to rehabilitate a drawbridge over the St. Lucie River in Stuart, Florida. 

The FEC-owned structure needs to be upgraded to accommodate both freight- and passenger-rail traffic. The bridge rehab — which began April 16 — is one of the final projects that need to be completed for Brightline to extend its passenger-rail service from Miami to Orlando.  

FEC and Brightline traffic is co-mingled between Miami and Cocoa, Florida. Owned by Grupo Mexico Transportes since 2018, FEC operates a 351-mile line between Jacksonville and Miami over which 70% of traffic is intermodal loads; the other 30% is carload freight. 

Last year, the regional, Brightline and other partners worked jointly to replace a drawbridge over the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, Florida, that was built in 1926. 

The rehab of the St. Lucie River bridge involves the replacement of mechanical, electrical and control components, and the machining of four trunnions, or the axles that enable the structure to rotate. Led by contractor Scott Bridge Co., the work is coordinated by FEC, Brightline and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The Coast Guard previously approved Brightline’s request for a temporary modification to drawbridge operations so the rehab work can be completed by summer. A 21-day closure — with the drawbridge in the down position — will begin May 1 so crews can work around the clock without any interruptions. 

St. Lucie Bridge The bridge project is one of the final pieces needed for Brightline to extend its service from Miami to Orlando. Brightline

The work is necessary to ensure that the bascule span can reliably rise for marine traffic and close for freight and passenger trains, said Michael Cegelis, Brightline’s executive vice president of rail infrastructure and development, in a project start notice. 

“The new mechanical and electrical systems will greatly reduce the risk of unplanned closures that would impact all three user groups,” he said. 

The bridge has not been substantially upgraded or rehabilitated since it was built in the 1920s, so the project will greatly improve the structure’s reliability and efficiency, project partners say. Prep work began on the bridge in 2021. 

All work must be completed prior to the start of hurricane season due to safety concerns and evacuation protocols, project partners say. 

The rehab will be monitored by the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast (MIATC), Martin County, the city of Stuart, and several federal, state and local law enforcement organizations. MIATC officials are concerned about marine-related businesses’ potential lost revenue during the three-week bridge closure, as well as the inconvenience to commercial and recreational boaters. 

“[But] we are also hopeful the planned maintenance, upgrades and new installations will ensure the nearly 100-year-old bridge will operate more reliably and efficiently,” said Dan Romence, who chairs MIATC’s bridges and waterways committee, in the notice. “We are further advised this temporary planned closure will help to avoid any operational failures that would result in an emergency closure, which would have a much larger impact on the marine community.”