FDOT Requests Skanska to Cover Toll Loss
Last month, the Florida Department of Transportation issued a letter of intent to Skanska USA Civil Southeast, Inc. seeking damages and lost toll-related revenue because of the current toll suspension on the Garcon Point Bridge.
The letter arrived only a few weeks after Hurricane Sally wreaked havoc on the area, causing at least 27 Skanska-owned barges and equipment to damage the Pensacola Bay Bridge, among other incidents and reported property damage.
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.
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.
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 the 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.
A few days later, however, inspectors discovered that damages to the Pensacola Bay Bridge were worse than previously expected. During a preliminary inspection, crews found that:
While FDOT’s statewide team of bridge experts are nearing conclusions of further inspection and assessments of the structure, they released additional information on the experienced damages. Thus far, the Department reports that a survey of the piers and topside inspections have been completed along with most of the underwater footings
Further inspection findings included:
At the beginning of October, FDOT announced that demolition efforts on the damaged areas of the Pensacola Bay Bridge had begun, with focus on areas that need cleared for dive access in order to examine the final 22 footings below the waterline.
At the time, three of Skanska’s barges remain on or under the structure, which will have to be removed with great caution. While the contractor has prioritized the barge removal and is reported to be working closely with FDOT to ensure the least amount of additional damage possible to the bridge in its efforts, they are also utilizing additional resources to expedite demolition.
In wake of the efforts taken to repair the structure, Skanska had already fabricated 25 beams, various piers and other replacement beams and piers at its offsite yard needed to begin repair efforts. The contractor has also reached out to other facilities to assist in production.
What’s Happening Now
Due to the closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has temporarily suspended the $5 bridge toll on the privately-owned Garcon Point Bridge. While an inspection is still underway, initial assessments report that repairs could take up to six months.
According to data from FDOT, prior to the closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, Garcon Point averaged roughly 6,500 vehicles per day, although after the bridge was closed in September, traffic had increased to more than 31,000 vehicles per day.
While owners of the Garcon Point Bridge have yet to pursue the recovery of lost tolls during this time, Jason Peters, FDOT Director of Transportation Operations, said in its letter of intent to Skanska that the department would pursue, should the request be made.
“It is the Department’s intent to pursue recovery from Skanska USA Civil Southeast, Inc., for any claims that the Trustees for the bondholders of the Garcia Point Bridge may assert against the Department for lost toll revenues," Peters wrote. "But for the barges rendering the Pensacola Bay Bridge impassible, there would have been no need to suspend the tolls.”
However, according to Sen. Doug Broxson, lost toll revenue caused by emergency closures are usually paid out by the Florida Legislature. In terms of tolls revenue, Broxson added that the loss was a monthly difference of between $700,000 and $4 million.
According to ENR, Skanska has declined to comment on the letter.
Currently, the governor's order suspending the Garcon Point Bridge toll is set to expire Nov. 13.