ORLANDO, Fla. - The Florida Department of Transportation knew of 17 structural cracks in an Interstate 4 support beam as early as January, according to inspection reports Channel 9 obtained.
The heavily redacted 11-page report said a crack inspection was completed Jan. 30, but it doesn't say when FDOT first noticed the cracks on the pier.
“The depth of the cracking could not be verified," the report said. "Due to the amount and location of the cracking, it is recommended that these cracks be classified as 'structural' cracks.”
Channel 9's news partner News 96.5 first reported the cracks on the bridge April 9. FDOT closed West Colonial Drive four days later to install temporary support.
Since then, traffic anchor Racquel Asa has pressed FDOT for answers.
The cracks, which remain visible, are next to sensors that provide the contractor constant readings of the pier's condition, specifically how the concrete is expanding and contracting in heat.
The report includes a column that is labeled "crack numbers" indicating 17 cracks on the pier were identified.
Business owner Charles Fowlers, who has watched the construction from his business, said he has wondered for weeks where things stand on fixing the issue.
Fowlers said he was burned the last time workers closed West Colonial Drive to install a temporary support. The report is unsettling, he said.
"Yeah, that's not good at all," he said. "(It probably means) another delay, a big delay."
Channel 9 tried to find an independent contractor or engineer to analyze the report, but no one wanted to comment or review it for fear of legal action or missing out on future state projects or grants.
Many have asked if the bridge is safe.
The state told Channel 9 that the pier and structure as it stands now along with the temporary structure can support itself.
The concern was whether it can handle the weight of traffic on the new bridge.
FDOT officials have obviously had some reservations, because it hasn't opened the bridge to drivers yet. It was originally scheduled to open Feb. 22.
The bridge pier design is an L-shaped pier known as a cantilever design, which is often used in tight spaces.
Channel 9 learned it will take at least three months for FDOT to replace the temporary structure with a permanent fix. The agency said the bridge with temporary support in place is safe to drive beneath.
Area businesses said they wonder what's next, considering the bridge above the pier is completed.
"I'm curious what the fix is going to be," Cobb Jones said. "How do you fix that without starting over again?"
FDOT wouldn’t say if that's one of the options being considered, because it’s still in the process of identifying the source and the severity of the cracks.
Once that happens, the state will have a better idea of whether it must close West Colonial Drive again.
"They have to fix it, of course,” Jones said. “But the traffic is going to be horrible."
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