Miami-Dade County

Manager: Weather may have been a factor in bridge crashing down on mega-yacht

The drawbridge on the Broad Causeway in Bay Harbor Islands crashed onto a passing yacht named “Rockstar” on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.
The drawbridge on the Broad Causeway in Bay Harbor Islands crashed onto a passing yacht named “Rockstar” on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. WSVN-7

Engineers, electricians and other town officials were inspecting the Broad Causeway bridge Wednesday after part of the steel structure crashed into a mega-yacht passing through the span.

It was not clear Wednesday what caused the east leaf of the bridge to slip down, but weather may have been a factor, said Bay Harbor Islands Town Manager Ron Wasson.

“There was a heavy squall moving through that may have pushed the bridge,” he said. “Thankfully no one was hurt.”

Wasson said the yacht was being towed — with one tow boat in the front and one in the back — and could not stop to avoid the bridge, which did not free-fall, but came down normally. The bridge suffered minor damage, including a lost navigational light and some scratches.

The yacht, named Rockstar, didn’t fare as well.

“Steel wins over fiberglass,” Wasson said.

Jorge Pino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said there could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the yacht. The yacht’s captain, Ken Maff, wouldn’t comment. There were about 15 people aboard at the time of the accident, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The yacht was taken to Dania Beach for further investigation. Pino said it was too early to tell whether it was a mechanical error or human error. He said a slow speed helped minimize the impact.

“In this case no one was on the upper deck, so we were fortunate no one was hurt,” he said.

Billy Smith, a vice president with Mississippi-based Trinity Yachts, said the crew was following all the proper procedures and were lucky that the boat was built to handle the blow.

“The good news is the boat was strong enough to withstand the blow from the bridge,” Smith said. “The bad news is the boat just came out of the shipyard with a brand new paint job.”

Wasson said the town, which owns the bridge, had planned on beginning repairs to the structure in January. He said that will likely not change.

The $11.5million contract to repair and upgrade the bridge was approved by the Bay Harbor Islands Town Council after the Florida Department of Transportation described it as “functionally obsolete.”

After being shut down for several hours, the bridge was opened to traffic after 9 p.m. Tuesday and also is open to boat traffic — with a restriction. The span, which connects North Miami on the mainland to Bay Harbor Islands north of Miami Beach, is scheduled to go up twice an hour based on boat traffic.

Wasson said that for now, only one side of the bridge will be functional, which means larger boats will have to take another route. Haulover’s fixed span bridge is to the north and the two drawbridges along the 79th Street Causeway are to the south.

Wasson credits the bridge operator for not panicking when the bridge started going down.

“Once the bridge is going down it is very difficult to change directions,” Wasson said. “This could have been a lot worse.”

Coincidentally, the accident happened as more than 700 bridge engineers from 26 states came to South Florida for the 2014 National Accelerated Bridge Construction Conference.

Atorov Azizinamini, the chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Florida International University, said he couldn’t comment specifically on the Broad Causeway incident but said added car traffic and bridge age are causing problems.

“Bridges are resilient in many ways,” he said. “But we need to focus on service life and bridge preservation.”

Miami Herald staff writer Lance Dixon contributed to this story.

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