A construction team plans to open two lanes of the Interstate 10 bridge over Escambia Bay, a crucial east-west route destroyed by Hurricane Ivan, just 24 days after receiving the Sept. 17 contract. The team led by Gilbert Southern Corp., Peachtree, Ga., a division of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., will take from the more damaged eastbound span to reconstruct its western twin.

Much of the two-mile twin span bridge washed out due to water upsurge when Ivan came ashore. The center span rises about 55 ft high over the bay for navigational clearance but the approaches average about 10 to 12 ft, says Kevin Thibault, Florida Dept. of Transportation assistance secretary for engineering and operations. Built in 1968, the bridge normally carries about 21,000 vehicles daily .

In the first phase of its $28-million contract, Gilbert Southern’s team will use barge-mounted cranes to pick 200-ton concrete beams from the two-lane eastbound crossing and "patch" them into spots on the westbound crossing where about a dozen identical panels washed out.

Doing this in 24 days "obviously includes a lot of assumptions," for instance, that the integrity of remaining spans and support members is not compromised, says Thibault. If more damage to piers or other components is found, the 24-day period can be extended. Barring that, the team will receive $250,000 for each day short of the 24 days to complete the job for a maximum bonus of $3.5 million. The same is true for late penalties.

The second phase will entail placing Acrow bridge panels across the eastbound side, which lost some 40 to 50 deck sections. That will take two to three months, Thibault adds. The third phase includes clean-up.

Eventually, the bridge will be replaced. "We’re meeting with the Federal Highway Administration and saying that maybe the time is now, instead of in 10 years, to build a new bridge," says Thibault. Ysela Llort, FDOT assistant secretary for intermodal systems development, says that a detour now takes trucks 2.5 hours out of their way. "We know that's a hardship for commerce," she says. "So we're working as diligently as we can to try to get those east-west connections going."

The I-10 bridge was the only one to suffer major structural damage, says Thibault. Other bridges need repaving and refilling of embankment on approaches, he says.

As a result of the hurricanes, FDOT may take another look at its policy of using steel arms for traffic signals instead of wires in coastal areas, but Thibault doubts major changes for bridges will occur. "You’re always playing catch-up on what to design for," he notes. "If you design for a certain seismic event, and then you get a larger one, do you keep ratcheting up?"

After touring the bridge and Pensacola Airport Sept. 21, U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced $2.5 million in aid to the airport and $2 million for bridge repairs.