FDOT Announces Pensacola Reopening
At the end of March, officials from the Florida Department of Transportation announced that traffic on the Pensacola Bay Bridge was scheduled to reopen the week of Memorial Day.
However, prior to fully reopening to the public, crews now have plans to demolish and replace an entire trophy piece after additional damage had been discovered earlier that month.
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 wrote at the time, 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.
MORE DELAYS: Pensacola Bay Bridge is now scheduled to reopen the week of May 31, FDOT announced today. https://t.co/zWvk3ERN0p— WEAR ABC 3 (@weartv) March 29, 2021
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. At the time, the Department reported that a survey of the piers and topside inspections were completed along with most of the underwater footings. Further inspection findings included the inspection of 202 underwater footings, while top side inspection teams assessed 105 spans, 202 piers and 525 beams; FDOT identified five spans requiring full replacement, in additional to two that would require partial replacement; and that a number of beams will require replacement, however, that number was still being determined.
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 remained on or under the structure, and would have to be removed with great caution. In wake of the efforts taken to repair the structure, Skanska fabricated 25 beams, various piers and other replacement beams and piers at its offsite yard needed to begin repair efforts. The contractor 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 seeking damages and lost toll-related revenue because of the current toll suspension on the Garcon Point Bridge. 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.
Additionally, lawsuits regarding the construction company and affected local businesses are still ongoing within the court system.
Originally, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the suspension of tolls on the Garcon Point Bridge to last until Nov. 13. This toll suspension has since been extended to April 9, though officials have said they are confident those tolls will remain suspended until traffic is fully open on the Pensacola Bay Bridge.
Providing a repair update at the beginning of December, 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.
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.”
Skanska Seeks Liability, Work Continues
In five separate filings—each representing a different barge—Skanska requested in January that the courts declare the company not liable “for any loss, injuries or damages" related to barge damage, including economic losses suffered by businesses from the closure of the new span of the bridge.
While a Skanska spokesperson told reporters at the time that the company doesn’t comment on active or pending litigation, should the courts refuse the company’s request, they’ve also submitted an alternate request, asking that the liability be limited to the dollar amount of its ownership in each vessel.
Skanska has valued its barges to each cost between $125,000 and $550,000, totaling $1.43 million, and asks that they be divided pro rata between all those submitting valid claims within a certain time period to be determined by the court. A copy of a security bond equal to the value of each barge was included with each filing.
At the time, numbers on the demolition and repair activities included:
Over the course of the work, FDOT is continuing to monitor Skanska’s investigation with state and local authorities to determine if the line connecting the barge to the sea floor was severed, as another barge was reported to break loose at the end of December.
Repairs & Reopening
While the bridge was expected to partially reopen on March 22, officials have since revised the reopening date to accommodate for trophy—the vertical structure that you see coming out of the water underneath the road portion of the bridge—repairs. According to reports, after being placed, one of the trophies had shifted.
“During repair efforts on the trophy pieces at pier 70, repair crews identified additional damage that warranted replacing the interior trophy piece at pier 70,” the FDOT statement reads. The trophy piece's replacement at pier 70 is critical since the demolition, pile driving, trophy installation, beam replacement and deck pouring will be required.”
Once a connection is restored between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze, Skanska will remain working on site through until January of 2022 to complete all improvements to the new bridge.
On behalf of the project's upcoming completion, Broxson has reported that he wil be touring the constuction site every two weeks until traffic is reopened on the bridge as to hold the state and Skanska accountable, and to provide the public with the most accurate updates.
Broxson is confident that following his recent tour of the site, all other bridge pilings and trophy pieces had been inspected and approved.
A full reopening of the bridge is expected to be complete by Memorial Day.