FDOT Responds to Hurricane Damage
Nearly a week after Hurricane Sally rocked the Gulf Shores of Alabama, and surrounding areas, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced recovery efforts for the damages experienced at the Pensacola Bay Bridge.
According to Florida Senator Doug Broxson, repairs could take between 30-60 days to complete.
Bridge vs. Barge
In anticipation that Hurricane Sally would make landfall some 200 miles west of Pensacola, contractor and design-build team Skanska USA hadn’t planned to move its construction equipment but told Engineering News-Record that it had made all appropriate pre-storm preparations. However, when Hurricane Sally unexpectedly changed her course in the final hours of approaching land, it was too late to take additional action.
“The sudden shift in the intensity, direction and duration of the storm was unprecedented and entirely unexpected by the entire Pensacola community,” Skanska wrote to ENR. “Unfortunately, it was neither safe nor feasible to attempt the removal of barges and other equipment in the brief period between the storm’s sudden intensification and its ultimate landfall.”
As a result, the Category 2 hurricane landed just 30 miles west of the Pensacola Bay Bridge (also known as the Three Mile Bridge) replacement project site, causing the dislodge of several barges and other construction equipment.
One of the worst impacts, Pensacola News Journal writes, was a crane that passed under the Three Mile Bridge, smashing through the surface of the road from beneath, destroying the span. While the structure was closed immediately following a barge impact on Tuesday morning, it was reported that the bridge suffered a second impact the following day. Upon preliminary damage assessments, FDOT has determined that at least five of the 105 spans are irreparable and will have to be reconstructed.
The Garcon Point Bridge was also affected by a dislodged barge and was also closed.
Replacement Project History
The Pensacola Bridge replacement project kicked off back in 2016 as the original structure—constructed in 1960—was reaching the end of its lifespan. The project consists of a new U.S. 98 bridge across the bay between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach comprised of two separate structures: one for eastbound traffic, the other for westbound, with three 12-foot travel lanes, a 10-foot-wide path for foot and bicycle traffic, as well as 10 feet inside and outside shoulders. Pedestrians will be able to use shaded observation areas to take in views of the bay.
The first new bridge reached completion in 2019. At that time, two lanes of eastbound and two lanes of westbound traffic were slated to be moved onto the new bridge. Once that is complete, crews plan to demolish the old bridge and build the second structure by late 2021.
The $430 million replacement project is being funded by FDOT and is reported to be the state’s largest-ever transportation project.
Since experiencing the natural disaster, FDOT reported in a press release that it had deployed over 150 people, which have since completed cut and toss efforts, but are currently conducting bridge inspections, and plan to have debris removal finished up sometime this week.
Although a statewide team of bridge experts are inspecting all portions of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the substructure (located underwater) was found to be partially unstable. Due to this setback, Broxson reported that a complete appraisal of the structure could take a week or more to finalize.
As a result of the damages, Gov. Ron DeSantis has since signed Executive Order 20-224, which suspends the toll costs on the privately-owned Garcon Point Bridge, which Broxson expects to be extended while the affected bridges receive repairs.
"We know that up to 30 spans were compromised by the barges in some way," Broxson said. "It may be minor damage, it may be significant. If it's more significant and we find out it's more than five spans, then we'll up that number."
While Broxson added that there hadn’t been much discussion over Skanska’s role in the damages at this time, NOAA aerial photos have found that roughly 20 barges could be identified as Skanska-owned. Regardless, the state hopes to recoup the cost of damages through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"It is certainly not human error—not moving might have been a human error—but the fact that it was dislodged was caused by a natural disaster, and we're gonna see what (FEMA's) take is on helping us get the resources to immediately put that bridge back together."
In the meantime, Skanska has also dispatched a community outreach team, insurance claim specialists for impacted property owners, and has pledged to work with FDOT on inspections and developing a repair plan for the bridge.
FDOT estimates that the structure will be closed to traffic for an extended period, which can be made more specific once a full assessment of the damages are complete. However, FDOT predicts that it will have to shore the bridge, demo irreplaceable sections, and reconstruct affected spans all prior to reopening. Following a full assessment and development of a repair plan, FDOT reports that appropriate parties will be held responsible for the repairs.