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    Skyway one-way for 7 hours

    Rainy weather pushed back plans to have lanes alternate across the bridge tonight. Repairs could cause two-hour delays.

    [Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
    The Sunshine Skyway bridge is awash in the lights of traffic Friday night.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 19, 2002

    Just like the rest of us, the Sunshine Skyway bridge has joints that bend and move. Except the bridge's joints are 40 feet wide and weigh 40,000 pounds, and they need to be replaced.

    That's a big job, and it happens this week.

    Drivers who cross the Skyway at night or in the early morning need to know this: State officials will close half of the bridge for repair work. They originally planned to start today But rainy weather has caused a delay.

    Now they plan to start Wednesday. That's when southbound lanes will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., meaning both northbound and southbound traffic will take turns using the bridge during those hours.

    State officials warn that traffic could be delayed for hours.

    "In the beginning, you can expect two-hour delays," said Marian Pscion, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation. "As the night goes on, those delays will grow shorter. By the middle of the night, we feel those delays will be less than an hour."

    The DOT is replacing defective expansion joints on the bridge. The massive joints, made of steel and rubber, fit between concrete slabs on the Skyway and allow the bridge to expand and contract in Florida's temperature changes.

    Officials started closing single lanes on the bridge last Thursday night, doing preliminary work to get ready for the main repair job.

    The actual joint replacement work is scheduled to begin Wednesday, weather permitting.

    During the lane closure, eight Florida Highway Patrol cars will lead caravans of vehicles across the Skyway as northbound and southbound traffic alternates across the bridge in the northbound lanes.

    "It's what we call the 'pilot car' method," Pscion said. "If you're going southbound, for instance, they'll have cones up to lead you into the rest area and underneath the overpass, where you'll line up with all the other southbound cars.

    "Police cars will take cars over the bridge in one direction for a while. Once they make sure the bridge is clear, they'll switch to the other direction. It'll take about 40 minutes."

    On Aug. 27, the repair operation will shift to the northbound lanes, meaning northbound lanes will close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Northbound and southbound traffic will shift to alternate crossings in the southbound lanes.

    As with the southbound lane closure, there will be about a week of single lane closures from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. before the actual work begins. This is to give workers time to perform preliminary work.

    The DOT cautions that bad weather could force changes in the schedule.

    If the traffic delays are as long as expected, early commuters could be affected.

    The alternatives? Wait until later in the morning to cross, or make sure you beat the nightly lane closing.

    For many people, the best bet is to use an alternate route, such as Interstate 275 to Interstate 4 in Tampa and east to Interstate 75. Another possibility is the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway to I-75.

    Defective expansion joints on the Skyway damaged several cars in March. Crews found that a small plate covering a failed expansion joint had come loose. They worked for days to secure a larger, heavier plate over the damage -- a temporary fix that has been in place for the past five months.

    "We have tried to let everybody know about the bridge closure," Pscion said. "We've had signs all over that area letting people know this is going to happen."

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