The new Pensacola Bay Bridge project reached another milestone this week as the first of the two 150-foot tall white arches planned for the outside of each span was raised and attached.
"This is a huge milestone for us," said Ian Satter from the Florida Department of Transportation. FDOT invited members of the media onto the bridge Thursday morning to watch the installation of the arch. Satter says there have been a few milestones going back to the beginning of construction to the recent joining of both ends of the bridge in the center.
"I think for people (this milestone) signifies how far we've come and close we are to opening this bridge."
The plan is for the bridge to be opened in two phases. The first one, which will likely happen before summer is over, will have both directions of traffic move to the newly constructed span. Satter says this first phase will be different from the final product. "We will have two lanes of traffic in each direction. We will have a center lane which is dedicated for emergency responders (to use) or for people if they break down, that will be in place."
The multi-use path on the right side of the span will be opened a few months later.
Once traffic moves to the new span, the old bridge will be taken down. "We will begin demolition of that bridge (as soon as traffic moves). Many portions of that (bridge) will actually be used as an artificial reef, so that will be repurposed, (which is a great feature of) this project. But this older structure will be gone because it sits in the footprint of the new westbound structure."
In the meantime, there will be changes in traffic patterns leading to and from the bridge in both Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.
"You'll see minor changes at the foot of each bridge, as they approach the bridge, and we understand that it probably takes a week or so for people to get used to it. So we will advise extra caution at that time as you drive through this area. You have to remember too that we have a lot of visitors that are coming through this area that are navigating (the new traffic pattern) as well. The main thing is just please be patient, please be safe and please be aware of changing conditions."
The arch was supposed to be raised onto the bridge at 10 a.m. on Thursday, but the project started early due to weather concerns and it was mostly in place by the time the press arrived. The arch is not completely decorative. It will support the multi-use walkway that will be constructed on the right hand side of each span of the bridge. Once the project is complete, Ian Satter says the bridge will be an impressive sight.
At close to $400 million, the Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement project is by far the largest transportation initiative in Northwest Florida history. As things stand now the project is still on schedule. The finished bridge is set to open sometime in late summer 2021.