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Three days after a crash snarled traffic on two major roads that serve more than 140,000 vehicles a day in Southwest Florida, congestion has eased but extensive and costly damage remains.

A trailer towing machinery that exceeded Daniels Parkway height regulations smashed into the underside of the Interstate 75 overpass Tuesday. As a result, several lanes of both roads will be closed off and on for the next month, just as snowbird season kicks off and people are flocking to the nearby Southwest Florida International Airport.

“(Thursday) morning’s rush hour we did have a several mile backup southbound,” said Debbie Tower, Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman. “(Today) with rush hour, we anticipate traffic to be moving more smoothly.”

The affected section of I-75 saw an average of 75,500 vehicles per day in 2011, Tower said. The affected section of Daniels Parkway saw an average of 66,500 vehicles. There could be more this month because it’s snowbird season, Tower said.

Traffic did ease Thursday when additional lanes opened – a second southbound lane on I-75 and a second eastbound lane on Daniels.

Of the six bridge beams damaged in Tuesday’s crash, three can be patched with epoxy and three must be replaced, Tower said. The project should be done early next month.

Ralph Verrastro, a bridge engineer with WilsonMiller/Stantec in Fort Myers, said damaged bridge beams typically can be patched. If replacement beams are necessary, the driver must have not only smashed the beams’ outer, concrete layer, but severed the steel cables inside.

Tower said FDOT does not have a cost estimate yet for the project and may not have one until next week.

Verrastro said it’s hard to estimate the cost of the project without knowing more about it, but it could cost between $500,000 and $1 million.

“It’s a real big deal,” Verrastro said. “In a sense it’s like building a new bridge.”

The outer lanes of I-75 north and southbound are closed because they run on top of the most severely damaged beams, Tower said. FDOT maintains the other lanes are safe.

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Verrastro agrees. The other, intact beams can accommodate the weight of traffic, he said.

The man responsible for the damage, his employer or insurance company may have to foot some of the bill. Infrastructure Corporation of America, the contractor FDOT is using to manage the damage, will seek third-party reimbursement for repairs, Tower said. That means it will go after the responsible party.

Lehigh Acres truck driver Glendale Edison, 57, was towing a trackhoe that hit and damaged the bridge right before rush hour on Tuesday and it caused havoc for drivers because of an overflow of traffic on surrounding roads.

“The traffic just looked all the way from the bridge to Six Mile Cypress,” said Carlos Villarreal, 30, of Lehigh Acres, “and it was a dead stop.”

Villarreal’s live-in partner, Roxy Judd, 26, has been taking Colonial Boulevard home to Lehigh Acres instead of her usual Daniels Parkway route. It adds 20 minutes to a commute that is already half an hour, she said.

“It might affect our gas tank a little bit,” Villarreal said, “going the extra mile or two.”

Dave Garrison, 71, hadn’t given either road another chance since the additional lanes opened.

“I didn’t know how it was,” he said, “so I avoided it.”

The speed limit on I-75 also dropped Thursday, from 70 mph to 60 mph for northbound traffic and 50 mph for southbound. That’s because one of the two open southbound lanes is 2 feet narrower than usual, Tower said.

Tower encouraged motorists to plan extra travel time and pay attention to road signs.

“What we don’t want to see are any fender benders,” she said, “or any kind of incidents in this work zone.”

Connect with this reporter: Marisa Kendall NP (Facebook), @MarisaKendall (Twitter)

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