Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19: Tweak Bridge Tender Numbers

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Removing distractions such as televisions and DVD players from bridge houses is a good idea to improve bridge tender safety. So are more supervision and better training.

But there's another idea that might need addressing: Adding more bridge tenders.

The shifts are eight hours long and the tender is alone. It's difficult enough to stay focused on any one thing for so many hours, but it's crucial when lives are at stake.

And they have been at stake in Broward County in particular during the last few years. Last year, 80-year-old Desmond Nolan died crossing a bridge at Sheridan Street in Hollywood because the bridge tender did not see him while opening the bridge. Nolan's family filed a lawsuit against Florida's Department of Transportation and the company it employs to operate that bridge. A couple of weeks ago, 76-year-old Miguel Borda was lucky to escape with his life while the bridge at Hallandale Beach Boulevard went up.

There's a large population of elderly residents in Broward's coastal sections, and they are likely to walk across bridges for various purposes, including shopping, fishing and exercising.

For a bridge tender, what's on the bridge - pedestrians and cars - should get priority before the boats that cross. A bridge tender also has other duties - including paperwork. On weekday shifts, the tender can face rush hour traffic.

Imagine the outcry if there was a single air traffic controller in the tower at Miami International or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

FDOT and its contractors need to add more, as well as better trained, employees. On Broward's busiest bridges, one, apparently, is not enough in the bridge house.

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