Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has extended the suspension of the Garcon Point Bridge toll for another month.
In the meantime, the battle over liability in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally continues in the courts, as the work to repair and construct the new Pensacola Bay Bridge is picking up steam.
The Florida Department of Transportation is pointing to three major aspects of the Pensacola Bay Bridge Repair Project that are underway in an effort to keep the process on track for reopening in March.
“One is pile-driving operations have begun. Those piles are basically the foundation on which the bridge sits on,” said FDOT spokesman Ian Satter.
A recently released FDOT video demonstrates the pile-driving process.
“So, folks in that area may be hearing these 20,000-pound, diesel-powered hammers driving these piles into the bay throughout the day,” Satter said. “The good news is we won’t through the overnight hours, so there’s relief as far as pile-driving goes over the evening hours.”
However, other aspects of the job will take place overnight.
In addition to the new foundation piles, Satter says crews are setting beams, the structure used to hold up the deck of the bridge.
“At the same time, we’re continuing to work on the second structure, which was under construction, as well as working at the flyover portion on 17th (Ave.),” he said.
And with damage inspections complete, another key aspect of the repair project is the concurrent demolition of those parts of the bridge damaged by runaway barges that broke loose during the September hurricane.
“Constructed of steel-reinforced concrete, the bridge spans weigh approximately 1.9 million pounds. This computer-aided simulation depicts one method of demolition employed on the project,” begins a FDOT video explaining the intricate process.
“From the beginning of the reconstruction of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, we’ve been looking at innovative ways that we can make the timeline work much more quickly and efficiently for us, as our contractors are out there repairing the bridge” Satter added.
The demolition video describes how the work begins with saw-cutting the bridge deck along the length of the span and over the center line of the piers.
“A construction barge positioned beneath the span is used to provide a work platform so that self-propelled modular transporters can be moved into position,” the video continues. “Hydraulic jacks on the transporters lift the beams and bridge deck from their supports. The bridge section is then moved to a staging area at the opposite end of the barge.”
“One of the things that they’re doing out there is they have a system in place where these machines can lift whole sections of the bridge span and remove them to be demolished at different location,” said Satter. “That speeds us up, when it comes to the repairs of the bridge. That’s because, obviously, if we can remove the damaged pieces much more quickly, that allows us to get in there and repair and replace much more quickly.”
For the past several months, FDOT has been meeting with local governments and civic groups on both sides of the bridge in an effort to keep the public informed.
“I think the number-one question is, ‘Will the bridge be ready to go, open and operational by March of 2021,’” Satter declared.
“The purpose of my town halls has been to reassure people that six months means six months and we're still looking at a mid-late March schedule to get the bridge reopened, " said District 2 Rep. Alex Andrade, who noted rumors that the repair work would take longer than publicized. The bridge is in his district.
During his most recent town hall, earlier this month in Gulf Breeze, he sought to put to rest the notion that contractor Skanska might abandon the $400 million project amid mounting lawsuits and political pressure, and now operating at a loss. Frankly, he says there’s too much at stake moving forward.
“Exactly, Skanska doesn’t want to give up on the opportunity for future contracts in Florida, so they’re committed to making this one right,” he said.
That also applies to the two experienced subcontractors Skanska has brought in to assist with the Pensacola Bay Bridge Project.
“These companies have their own heavy equipment, their own skilled employees and contractors,” Andrade added.
“These two subcontractors are motivated, not just by the payments they’re receiving for making the repairs, but also to impress the FDOT. We’re the third largest state in the country, with a very large budget. And, if they do a good job, it’s possible it’ll put them in a good position moving forward to be competitive for future Florida contracts.”
But, their work to repair and complete construction of the bridge hasn’t stopped Skanska from seeking liability relief from the mounting financial damages caused by the loose barges and the extended closure of the span connecting Pensacola and Gulf Breeze. On Wednesday, attorneys for the company filed a series of “admiralty claims” in federal court.
“This is a filing that anyone who’s been following the case and has been researching Florida law and federal law expected them to file,” he said. “There’s a federal law on the books that allows a vessel owner to limit their liability to the value of the vessel.”
In this case, the five barges that caused the damage reportedly have a maximum value of $550,000.
Rep. Andrade says any individuals or business owners, who believe they’ve been harmed by the bridge being damaged, should not let the court filing by Skanska discourage them from seeking payment for their losses.
“Court proceedings are long and arduous and complicated and we’re still at the very beginning of these court proceedings, so making definitive determinations about how you individually or as a business owner or family are going to proceed based on one single court filing would be short-sighted,” he advised.
Andrade plans to hold a third town hall on the Pensacola side of the bridge in January. In the meantime, repair and construction of the bridge continues on schedule, while traffic remains detoured to State Road 87 and the Garcon Point Bridge, where the toll has been extended until Jan. 12.
For residents who prefer, FDOT is funding ECAT bus service between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola.
Details on the detour routes, including graphics, FAQs, and regular updates can be found online at fdot.gov/pensacolabay. Members of the public wishing to receive these updates can choose to subscribe by providing their email address on this website as well.
For additional real-time updates on the Pensacola Bay Bridge, follow FDOT District Three on social media:
• Twitter: @MyFDOT_NWFL
• Facebook: @MyFDOTNWFL