Florida’s Department of Transportation is mulling over the possible release of proposed plans for a new Pensacola Bay Bridge ahead of schedule
For now, the release of the five competing plans for the $460 million project is set for July 18 at FDOT’s Chipley office. Scoring of the plans is set for announcement July 7 in Milton. Neither date is sitting well with Gulf Breeze Mayor Matt Dannheisser, who says they reflect a lack of public input.
“The last time that he public had any opportunity for any formal input on the bridge design was over two and a half years ago,” said Dannheisser. “Well before any design-build criteria package was prepared by DOT staff. And certainly well before any of the short-listed contractors began to consider, much less submit, a proposed concept.”
Part of the Mayor’s argument for an early release of the bridge plans is that they fall under Florida’s wide-ranging public records law. Dannheisser, along with the Pensacola News Journal, have made separate public records requests for the designs.
The Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization is making the same request. FDOT will review those, along with a request to move the project scoring meeting from Milton to the Escambia County Commission chambers in Pensacola, which Dannheisser also favors, but he still has reservations.
“Frankly, if the design plans are indeed released, then I don’t even think the county commission chambers would be large enough,” Dannheisser said. “It may require a larger venue, perhaps even the floor of the [Pensacola Bay] Center. Because I think the amount of interest in this would be tremendous.”
Replacing the 56-year-old Pensacola Bay, aka Three-Mile-Bridge, is the highest-profile bridge project in the area. Work is also ongoing at the Escambia Bay Bridge on Interstate 10 and replacing the span on 12th Avenue over Bayou Texar.
Calls to FDOT seeking an interview for this story were not returned. In March, spokesman Ian Satter said work on the Bay Bridge has been done behind the scenes.
“We have the different contractors that are vying to build this bridge,” said Satter. “Coming up with their plans, designs and proposals. They’ll deliver those to [FDOT] later this year, and in the summer we will select one of those contractors to design and build that bridge.”
The five design firms competing for the contract are being scored by a pair of committees: one on technical issues, the other on selection. While the blueprints differ in some areas, Satter said there are some features which are mandatory for all five proposals.
“It will be a six-lane facility,” Satter said. “Plans call for a ten-foot multi-use path to bike and jog there as well. There will be wider shoulders, so if somebody’s car breaks down, they’ll be able to pull over. You won’t have those traffic delays”
No matter when, or where, the five proposals are unveiled, FDOT officials say the new Pensacola Bay Bridge will meet high aesthetic standards, and the design scoring criteria will reflect that promise.