CLEARWATER — A major intersection on a highway that handles 60,000 cars a day is expected to remain closed today after two tractor-trailers clipped a steel girder supporting the old U.S. 19 overpass above Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, which was set for demolition.
The trucks were eastbound on Gulf-to-Bay on Tuesday afternoon when they struck the massive girder, which peeled back part the roof of one of the vehicle’s cargo containers, transportation officials said.
No one was hurt, but the girder was bent and hanging loose after the accident, making it unsafe for cars to travel beneath the overpass.
Gulf-to-Bay, or State Road 60, is expected to be closed at the intersection for 24 to 48 hours until the 100-ton, 200-foot girders are removed, state Department of Transportation officials said.
The bridge span the trucks hit has been closed to traffic since the first section of the new U.S. 19 overpass opened last month.
Work crews were prepared to begin removing the span next week during overnight hours as part of the extra $4.8 million Gov. Rick Scott promised contractors to expedite highway construction between Gulf-to-Bay and Whitney Road. Tuesday’s accident will force them to finish the demolition even sooner, the DOT said.
Until the intersection reopens, motorists should expect a slow trek through the area, especially during rush hours as cars are diverted around the overpass in both directions.
Gulf-to-Bay is a major route between Clearwater and Tampa. The gridlock already was beginning by midafternoon Tuesday, Clearwater Police Department spokesman Rob Shaw said.
“Traffic is a mess and it will not improve anytime soon,” he said.
The semitrailers don’t appear any taller than the others that pass under the span every day, and DOT officials are still investigating why they struck the girder.
The girders were set to be removed over four nights next week, followed by retaining walls on either side of Gulf-to-Bay, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.
Work has been constant around the overpass and crews already have the cranes and equipment needed to take it down, Carson said.
“It’s an active construction project, so we have equipment there,” she said.
They planned to begin work on the span by Tuesday evening.
Motorists should steer clear of the area if possible, but detours around the intersection have been posted along parallel roads for those who need to get through.
The $112 million project to improve this section of U.S. 19 started in 2009 and is expected to be finished by next spring.