Officials investigate bridge design after man's 40 foot fall

3:47 PM, Jul 3, 2012   |    comments
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MADEIRA BEACH, Florida (WFLA) - Florida state transportation engineers will investigate whether any changes are needed for Madeira Beach's Johns Pass bridge, where a fisherman fell head-first through a gap while walking between spans Friday night.

In the meantime, temporary fencing is being placed between the parallel spans as a safety precaution.

Pinellas County deputies said Joseph Schlag, 31, of Pinellas Park, was trying to cross spans and fell 40 feet to concrete, fracturing his skull and other bones.

The bridge has 8-foot-wide walkways with railings lining the outside lanes of the overpass as well as stairs at the ends.

There are concrete barriers adjacent to the inside lanes but no barriers or signs where the gap starts at the north and south ends of the bridge.

"There are bridges built with gaps in them," said Marian Scorza, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation. "We just need to make sure people use what we've provided them: the walkway and the stairs to get from one side to the other."

Schlag, who fell about 10:30 p.m. Friday, was in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

"Because of this tragedy that happened, we're going to put fencing between the two spans on the bridge; orange fencing like you see in construction areas," Scorza said.

Lane closures are planned for Tuesday so workers can accomplish that.

Engineers will also investigate whether any long-term solutions can make the bridge safer.

"If you went across to the median here and walked up ... it definitely looks like a sidewalk," said Paul Reece, who is visiting Madeira Beach from Canada. "There's nothing there to stop you at all."

The twin spans between Madeira Beach and Treasure Island were built in different phases, with the southbound lanes opening in 2008 and the northbound in 2010.

The $77 million drawbridge, which carries Gulf Boulevard traffic, replaced one built in 1971.

Some residents of Madeira Beach said they had not noticed the gap until Schlag fell.

"I would think there would be cement or at least a sign saying 'stop' because it just drops," Mariah Stine said.

Her friend Hailey Vaughan agreed.

"Looking at it after he fell off and actually paying attention...I would never thought to personally cross right there," she said. "But if I did think to cross right there - I wouldn't notice it...especially not at night." 


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