Irma winds created potential for bridge closures

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WHG/WECP) - Some Panama City locals say they're relieved with the minimal effects Hurricane Irma left in Bay County.

"We dodged a big bullet. If it would have come up here we would have definitely had to evacuate and done a lot more then what we done," John Holman, a Panama City local said.

One area of concern for some locals was the possibility of bridges closing down due to strong winds. The Florida Department of Transportation prepared to direct Florida Highway Patrol troopers to close bridges if winds reached a sustained speed of 40 miles per hour.

The Hathaway Bridge is one of the busier bridges in Bay County, but some locals we spoke to say it wouldn't have made a difference if the bridge had closed down.

"We would have had to go around if something had happened over in Captain Anderson's you know," Holman said, "if it had got up that high we probably wouldn't have left [home]."

"We don't hardly travel over the bridge very often. It wouldn't affect me at all," Daniel Meyer, a Panama City local said.

In the past, bridges would close if speeds reached 55 miles per hour. We reached out to Florida Highway Patrol for some answers about the change.

They sent us this statement: "The decision to use the 40 mph sustained wind was to ensure the safety and security of the motoring public. A lot of factors were considered like the high profile design of the bridges and the unpredictable gust that at times could possibly be double the sustained wind speeds. We do not come to these decision easy but always err on the side of caution. The decision was based solely on safety concerns of the motoring public," Lieutenant Eddie Elmore with the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford says there were no injuries reported in the area related to Irma. A team of Bay County deputies is prepared to deploy to other areas of the state that have experienced greater impacts from the storm.