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Area Struggles Without 3-Mile Bridge

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My Pensacola Bridge
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Panhandle-area officials and representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation met Wednesday, to discuss the needs of residents whose normal travel habits have been disrupted by Hurricane Sally’s damage of the Three Mile Bridge. 

State Senator Doug Broxson was among local leaders meeting with FDOT District-3 Secretary Phillip Gainer on Wednesday at Pensacola City Hall.

“I think some of the things that we want to do is to give the public more confidence that we’re hitting our marks as far as the recovery of the bridge,” said Broxson.

Afterwards, Broxson said he hopes the department will go into detail about their plans to repair and damaged span. He added there must also be answers to other questions.

“[There’s] a lot of concern about the traffic between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze; what’s this going to look like in the future?” said Broxson. “Is the governor going to extend the toll relief? I can tell you that we’re working on that; hopefully we’re going to have some news on that fairly soon.”

“This group behind me has been very supportive; they’ve got a lot of questions and they represent their area very well,” said Gainer. “I am grateful for their support, but also I’m grateful for the fact that they’re holding the line and wanting some answers, and we’re able to communicate with them.”

Gainer is looking forward to future meetings with officials from Pensacola and Gulf Breeze; Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, state legislators, and private business. Other meetings by the agency are being held with Skanska – which oversees construction of the new Three Mile Bridge.

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Credit City of Pensacola
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Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson speaking after Wednesday's meeting with FDOT at City Hall.

“We meet with them daily, we have a design meeting with them twice a week; there are some other meetings as well with myself and other [Skanska] leadership,” Gainer said. “We’ve had some discussions about outreach, and what we’re going to do to speak. But I do not pretend to speak on their behalf; but I do speak on behalf of the Department of Transportation. And we’re holding them accountable for schedules at this point in time.”

While the meeting dealt with issues such as a possible ferry system and changing signage and travel routes to avoid the bridge, another topic focused on the 800-pound gorilla not in the room, according to state Rep. Alex Andrade.

“I would challenge every single person to put a face to Skanska,” Andrade said. It’s been since September 18 that the company that was paid to build 2 spans across Pensacola Bay – for $422 million – hasn’t been able to produce a single span for this community.”

Skanska is facing a number of verbal flamethrowers over 22 of its construction barges, used to build the bridge, slipping their moorings during Hurricane Sally and damaged the bridge, along with several private properties. Andrade says now is the time for Skanska to step up to the plate.

“We have a community hurting that needs answers,” Andrade said. “And those answers aren’t just about how they’re going to get to work every day; how Gulf Breeze businesses are going to survive without between 30,000 and 60,000 cars driving through their city every day. How Pensacola Beach employers are going to keep their employees coming to the beach. Those are answers that we need Skanska’s answers in.”

Skanska, contends Andrade, may or may not have breached its contract with FDOT on the bridge project. But he does say the firm did breach its agreement with the public.

“When you bid on public projects, you’re taking taxpayer dollars and you’re responsive to the public that pays those tax dollars,” Andrade said. “And for them to, three weeks later, still not have public communication, any public-facing response about what they’re doing at least to fix the bridge — that they’ve been paid over $350 million to build so far — is ridiculous, as far as I’m concerned.”

A spokeswoman for Skanska Wednesday afternoon said, in an email, that they were not invited to the meeting.

Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender says the meeting also emphasized just how much the communities are struggling, and exploring ways to make things better, at least in the short term, through alternative transportation.

“We appreciate [FDOT’s] help in getting the bus routes set up, and we’re looking at how we can improve that – other additional stops, where do they need to go,” said Bender. “But at least we have it up and running, and we can proceed from there. And then also with the ferries, is how can we get those up, where do they need to go [and] how often?”

Meantime, FDOT is actively monitoring Hurricane Delta and is preparing for its possible impact — including heavy rain, flooding and storm surge in Northwest Florida.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.