The Pensacola Bay Bridge, damaged by Hurricane Sally and runaway barges last September, remains on track to reopen late next month. That’s the word from the state’s transportation chief.
“I immediately understood that this would be a difficult time for Pensacola and Gulf Breeze – and the other communities,” said FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault. “We have been laser-focused on making sure we can reconnect these communities as safely and as quickly as possible.”
Speaking in Milton Thursday, Thibault said March 22 is the target date; but that will be revisited prior to then. To expedite that goal, he says more workers and equipment have been added on-scene.
“I know you have seen the number of resources that the contractor team has put out there,” Thibault said. “We’ve added 10 cranes; and an additional 98 people working all hours on this effort.”
Previous assessments have shown that when the bridge is opened, it likely will be in a phased approach. Thibault made that official on Thursday, announcing that the reopening will be in two phases.
“First, two lanes of traffic — one in each direction — will be opened for the first 4,000 feet on the Pensacola side of the bridge,” said Thibault. “Also in this phase, the remaining two miles of the bridge will be open to four lanes of traffic — two in each direction. The second phase of the opening will be complete by Memorial Day and will address the remaining 4,000 feet with four lanes open to traffic.”
The phased approach is aimed at not only allowing traffic on the span, but also mobility and connectivity on U.S. Highway 98 between Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.
“Some of the reasons for this phased approach include: adverse weather conditions, including high winds that limited the ability of the contractor to perform certain operations, utilizing the necessary high-mass cranes,” said Thibault. “In attempting to drive some of the piles, obstructions, that were not detectable during the sonar and other testing, altered the pile-driving timeline.”
Meanwhile, FDOT will continue to withhold $35,000 per day from prime contractor Skanska USA, whose barges inflicted a major portion of damage to the bridge.
“Until four lanes of traffic are restored to the entire span of the Pensacola Bay Bridge,” Thibault said. “The initial opening will be safely done, with the posted speed limit of 35 mph. Providing breakdown areas for disabled vehicles, and constant traffic monitoring by the project team.”
After a recent assessment of the repairs to the Pensacola Bay Bridge, @MyFDOT has announced its plan to re-open the Pensacola Bay Bridge in phases beginning with restoring two lanes of traffic in March 2021. pic.twitter.com/iCwfWw8YI8
— FDOT District 3 (@MyFDOT_NWFL) February 18, 2021
Add to that, the Road Ranger Service Patrol will be stationed on each end of the bridge from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends and major holidays. At other times at least one unit will be on call.
“This revised configuration actually works quite well with the staged construction on the Pensacola side of the landing, allowing for additional production of that project,” said Thibault. “We’re installing a roundabout and flyover on that end. Actually the two lanes work quite will with that project – which is also scheduled to have the bulk of it opened by Memorial Day.”
On a regular basis, FDOT is reviewing the contractor’s schedule of the entire Pensacola Bay Bridge Project with the anticipated completion date for all improvements currently scheduled for January of next year.