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Local News

Bob Sikes Bridge Makeover to Begin In Late '19

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Work to extend the life of the 45-year-old Bob Sikes Bridge is scheduled to begin at the end of this year, aimed at tacking on another 10-15 years of use.

“It is safe; it is not an unsafe bridge, that’s absolutely not the case. It’s just an older bridge that needs some TLC,” says David Forte, Escambia County’s Director of Engineering. A recent inspection, he says, drew their attention to a couple of things that started the ball rolling on what Forte calls some “major rehabilitation work.”

“It’s just an intent to expand the lifespan of the bridge; to address some known, very minor concerns,” Forte said. “Which obviously will give us the opportunity to discuss more with our counterparts in the [Florida Department of Transportation], Federal Highway Administration, and others about the eventual replacement of the Bob Sikes Bridge.”

Once underway, the project will begin with work on the top deck, and then move to the bottom of the span.

“Top deck, repairing some concrete cracking, some sprawling issues [with] the pilings of the substructure,” Forte says. “The years of the actual movement of the water hitting up against our seawall. Replacing bolts with newer bolts; things of that nature.”

When work begins on the span’s under-section, it’s not expected to hinder marine traffic – an open channel will be established and kept clear.

The Bob Sikes Bridge handles an estimated 26,000 vehicles per day, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Escambia County officials say nearly two million have crossed in 2019 as of last month – an increase of 43,000 over the same period in 2018.

One of the major challenges will be working and keeping related traffic problems to a minimum. Forte says that’s why late fall-early winter is usually the timeframe for such projects.

“We have made it very clear and it will be in the contract that the top deck work is to be night work,” said Forte. “That’s going to be – give or take – about two to three months of actual top deck work. There are only so many hours at night for them to actually conduct work, and then break down before the following morning.”

“This does give us an opportunity to start working on funds to replace the bridge when the time comes for replacement; what resources we can have outside of Escambia County,” says District 4 Commissioner Robert Bender, where the bridge is located.

Two years ago, the Escambia County Commission provided four million dollars to extend the bridge’s lifespan by five years — from the original 2024 to 2029.

“We do have a little over $4 million allocated to the project; and that includes some of the services that go along with the construction,” Bender says. “We do feel that will handle the construction needs. We do have the toll in place, and that’s what those funds go towards and we can do that if we need to.”

Besides the bridge’s eventual replacement, money collected at the toll booth has gone for other traffic-related matters at Pensacola Beach. Bender says that’s standard procedure.

“So right now there is some money bonded to the toll collection that had to do with the widening of Via de Luna; those expire, I believe, in 2031, so we’ll do that,” said Bender. “We also had some money go towards the ferry landing that we put in last year.”

The Via de Luna widening began in 2002, and in 2019 leaves the county with no options to replace the bridge until that bond is retired in 12 years. The price tag for the Bob Sikes makeover is unclear at this point. Escambia County Engineer David Forte says the request for bids is going out next month.

“Right now our estimate from our engineer is — give or take — $4 million for the rehab work,” said Forte. “Again, that’s an estimate; we hope we in the next month and a half or two months we’ll have those bids back in and we’ll know exactly what the cost is.”

Workers will spend at least one year on the job.