Skanska Repairing FL Bridge ‘At a Loss’
Contractor and design-build team Skanska USA is continuing efforts to repair the Pensacola Bay Bridge in Florida, although reports indicate that the construction comes at a loss due to the damages from the company’s own barges during Hurricane Sally.
Florida Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, told the Pensacola News Journal that Skanska still had barges littered around the area, alongside crews accounting for safety, equipment and fuel, which in turn is driving up enormous daily costs.
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.
By the end of the month, FDOT 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.
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.
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.
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.
At the time, the governor’s order suspending the Garcon Point Bridge was slated to expire on Nov. 13.
Repairs Press On
In a second town hall meeting, Andrade addressed Santa Rosa County concerns over the closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge (which has been closed since Sept. 16), as well as the effects the transportation disruptions have had on the community’s economy. Additionally, Andrade reported that meeting was to address rumors over the repair project’s timeline.
Some have speculated that the entire structure would have to be removed and replaced, however, Andrade stated that that was simply not the case.
“The Three Mile Bridge is not like a unibody Honda Accord, one piece of metal where if you dent the bumper the whole thing can be totaled,” he said. “This is more like a freight train. If one car in the train gets dented, the rest of the cars on that train are fine. They’re replacing the cars on that train.”
While Skanska did not attend the town hall, the company has since been reported to have hired two subcontractors to initiate repairs on the bridge. In their efforts, the teams have been sending divers to evaluate pilings and repair concrete, in addition to replacing entire spans of the bridge.
Regarding the cost of the additional repairs, Skanska or its insurance companies are slated to pay for the repairs directly. Although many sections of the structure are being repaired ahead of schedule, the company is motivated to complete the project as soon as possible as its reported to be “building at a loss.”
While the unexpected increase in cost is daunting, Andrade reported that there was no chance of Skanska walking off the project, as the company wishes to be awarded more Florida transportation contracts in the future.
Money issues don’t end there for Skanska, however, as Sam Geisler, an attorney with the Pensacola law firm Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis and Overholt told reporters that the firm is currently representing 35 businesses that have been negatively affected by the bridge closure and are preparing to open a case against Skanska to immediate those losses as well.
"In a dream world, these businesses would get dollar for dollar what they've lost. They just want to be made whole," Geisler said. "Nobody is looking for a quick payday. This is really important because we've litigated against companies around the world, but this one is in our own backyard."
Another town hall regarding the Pensacola Bay Bridge repair project is scheduled to be held in January.
Skanska is still aiming for a March 2021 competition date.