Bridges on the Brink: Alhambra Drive

No trucks allowed despite FDOT's assurance that bridge is safe

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Signs posted near the Coral Gables canal warn residents about dangerous wildlife but there's nothing to alert drivers about what's lurking under Alhambra Drive.

This little bridge sits in the shadow of the Biltmore Hotel -- and it has big problems.

According to the Department of Transportation, it's "structurally deficient" and you don't need a PhD in 'bridge' to see why.

SPECIAL SECTION: Bridges on the Brink

"Structurally deficient does not mean that the bridge is going to fall, or is unsafe," said Florida Dept. of Transportation Maintenance Administrator Dennis Fernandez.

Fernandez is a bridge expert. He says despite it's "deficient" classification, this bridge can handle the 3,700 vehicles that cross it each day. Well, most of them.

This bridge is so bad, the state is worried about how much weight it can handle. That's why they've posted 'No Thru Trucks' signs. But to really see why, you've got to go underneath.

The concrete and rebar pilings that are holding up this bridge are completely corroded. In some places, they're only half as wide as they should be.

Entire chunks of the columns have fallen away, exposing the rusty rebar inside. These decayed, weather-beaten piles are what's supporting the traffic above

"The strength of the concrete comes from the steel," said architect Lisa Barrowman.

Barrowman is an architect and avid cyclist who was surprised to learn the bridge she rides over several times a week is in such bad shape.

"And they don't have any intentions of doing anything about it?" Barrowman asked.

The bridge, which is at least 50 years old is not set for any repair work for another 18 months.

A plan to fix the broken bridge is in the works, but it won't happen overnight. The city of Coral Gables doesn't have the money to do the work, so the state is stepping in, putting up the $975,000 to repair the substructure. The work is scheduled to begin in November 2014.

Despite the crumbling conditions under Alhambra Drive, inspectors are confident residents should be more worried about what's lurking in the Coral Gables canal.

"That bridge is safe, otherwise it wouldn't be open today," Fernandez said.

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