As out-of-town beachgoers in Long Beach drove home on Memorial Day evening, they found the northbound lane on the Michael Valente Memorial Long Beach Bridge was stuck in the upright position.
The northbound lane on the drawbridge was stuck due to a mechanical problem, according to a media advisory sent by the Nassau County Police Department at 6:26 p.m. Monday. According to Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford's office, the malfunction was caused by an electrical short. “A loose electrical wire blew the circuit,” said Patricia Dunham, Ford's assistant, after she spoke to a engineer who oversees the county's bridges Tuesday morning.
While the drawbridge can be hand-cranked to the down position, Dunham noted, that process takes four-hours and cannot be done at the same time mechanics try to remotely troubleshoot to correct the problem, which was their first option. “You can hand-crank the bridge but it’s not possible or feasible to do that process as the same time that you’re troubleshooting for an electrical short,” Dunham said.
She added that safety is a priority and that mechanics don't want to put the bridge in the closed position with the possibility of it not locking. "So that’s why it stays in the open position," she said. "Because in the closed position it’s not safe.”
After Patch posted an alert about the bridge malfunction on Facebook Monday evening, reader John Noyfb wrote at about the 7 p.m. hour: “[S]ide streets and all are backed up big time!!!."
A second police media advisory, sent at about 11:46 p.m., stated that the lane had reopened. But one reader indicated that the lane may have been reopened earlier. About about the 8 p.m. hour, Patricia Erskine commented: “Looks like it might be getting better. Traffics all gone.”
The Long Beach Police Department said that they started to receive numerous calls from motorists stating that they were at a standstill at the bridge at about 6:11 p.m.
“Shortly thereafter, we received a call from the Nassau County bridge operator stating that a circuit breaker issue was causing the problem and they had made notification for a mechanic to respond,” Sgt. Eric Cregeen, LBPD public information officer, told Patch Tuesday afternoon.
Due to the heavy traffic volume backing up in Long Beach, police decided to split the southbound lanes into one lane for northbound traffic and another lane for southbound traffic, as officers assisted with traffic control. The LBPD reported that the bridge was in full operation at 10:30 p.m.
“Thanks to the assistance of the Nassau County Police Department and the Long Beach Auxiliary Police we were able to facilitate a smooth flow of traffic without any incidents,” Cregeen said.
The bridge, which is owned and maintained by Nassau County, has had its share of problems in recent years. In September 2010, the bridge experienced two malfunctions within days of each other. First, the southbound lane was stuck in the open position when the structure sustained a control board malfunction as a new motor for the locking system was being installed, officials said. Then, a few days later, firefighters were called to the bridge to check on smoke from an apparent electrical problem.
In July 2011, the southbound side of the bridge was stuck in the upright position for hours on a bustling Saturday afternoon, causing some traffic delays and backups. The malfunction was ascribed to broken bridge locks, and had nothing to do with past problems with the span, officials said.
Last July, Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford, R-Long Beach, said that about five years ago the bridge was fixed and she thought the problems with the bridge would be resolved.
* This story was updated at 1:05 p.m. on 5.29.12.