- Both decks and all six lanes of the $440 million Pensacola Bay Bridge have opened, marking the end of major work on the largest transportation project ever in Northwest Florida. Progress on the U.S. 98 bridge was delayed by eight months after it was damaged in Hurricane Sally in September 2020.
- During the storm, 27 barges owned by contractor Skanska USA broke loose and crashed into the recently built eastbound crossing, forcing it to close to traffic for nine months. Spans, beams and piers had to be replaced or rebuilt.
- Skanska USA was found negligent in its response to the storm, but appealed the ruling. Lawsuits related to the incident are ongoing.
Work began on the project in 2017. The old four-lane bridge was demolished, and at the time of the hurricane, the 3-mile eastbound crossing was serving as the main bridge while the westbound portion was under construction. The barge damage affected 21 spans, 21 pedestrian path beams, 66 I-beams, five trophy pieces and 30 piles, according to the Florida DOT.
Repairs were completed in June 2021, and construction work resumed on the rest of the project. Skanska built out the second crossing, along with travel lanes and bike and walking paths.
The new westbound route’s three lanes opened earlier this year, and the final three lanes opened on the eastbound bridge on March 23. Crews are placing finishing touches on the project, and completion is expected later this spring, according to the project website. For the time being, some lane closures continue.
Legal wrangling continues
Local homeowners, commuters and businesses sued Skanska over the damage caused by the barges, and the firm lost its case in federal court in January 2022. It filed an appeal to the ruling later that month, asking for a new trial and additional findings of fact in the case.
Skanska claims the storm was stronger than predicted and the firm took appropriate measures to prepare, so it should not be held liable for the damage the barges caused. The appeal puts in question the timing of multiple suits filed against Skanska in state court, as well as a pending class action suit, a local attorney told the Pensacola News Journal.
In response to the incident, last year Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, sponsored a bill to remove part of the defense Skanska relied on in a 19th century federal maritime law to try to limit its liability for the incident. However, the legislation died in appropriations.
On Tuesday, the long-awaited $440 million Pensacola Bay Bridge was opened to traffic in Pensacola, Florida. The almost 3-mile-long bridge links Pensacola Beach to the main city of Pensacola and offers its citizens across the region improved roadway infrastructure and the promise of a more robust economic future.
“Today’s bridge opening is the result of more than a decade of hard work and cooperation between local, state and federal officials,” said Governor Ron Desantis, in a statement released during the bridge opening. “This will benefit our economy and create new job opportunities for this area.”
The bridge is the longest in the state of Florida and is part of the Interstate 10 connection. It is the first major structure to be built over the water connecting Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in the Pensacola region.
The bridge offers improved access to Pensacola Beach, which has become increasingly popular over the past decade. It can handle up to 13-lane traffic, making it the widest bridge in Florida. The bridge also offers several scenic overlooks, two pedestrian walkways, and two bike lanes, allowing pedestrians and cyclists access without competing with motor vehicles.
Construction on the bridge began in October 2014, and ultimately cost the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) nearly $440 million. The bridge was completed two years ahead of schedule, however, and is expected to provide at least 50 years of use.
The bridge opening marks a major milestone in Florida’s effort to improve the state’s roadway infrastructure and will provide both immediate and long-term economic benefits to the region. It is a critical link between Pensacola Beach and the daytime commuters who cross the bridge every day and for Pensacola’s tourism industry. The bridge is also expected to attract more businesses and industries to the region, giving the local economy a much-needed boost.
The long-awaited opening of the $440 million Pensacola Bay Bridge marks a significant improvement in the region’s infrastructure and provides a renewed sense of optimism for the region’s future.