Florida Dept. of Transportation investigators continue to assess damage to the Pensacola Bay Bridge, which sustained multiple impacts from two construction barges unmoored by Hurricane Sally’s storm-driven waves on Sept. 15.
Drone footage from local news outlets indicates that one barge reportedly carrying a crane took down a full-span of the three-mile structure, opened in 2019 as the first part of a $430-million state replacement project. A 10-ft-wide multi-use path, just recently opened, was left spanning the gap. A second barge hit and gashed another bridge span.
A nearby alternative bay crossing, which was also struck by a storm-freed barge, was deemed structurally sound and reopened to traffic with no traffic restrictions.
Skanska USA, design-build contractor for the bridge replacement project, said in a statement that it had made all appropriate pre-storm preparations to secure its equipment, including barges associated with their work, based on forecasts that Sally would make landfall as a tropical storm near the Louisiana/Mississippi border, about 200 miles west of Pensacola Bay.
A significant eastward track shift in the final hours of the hurricane's approach was detected too late to take action, the contractor said. Sally made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane near Gulf Shores, Ala., approximately 30 miles west of the project site.
“The sudden shift in the intensity, direction and duration of the storm was unprecedented and entirely unexpected by the entire Pensacola community,” Skanska’s statement said. “Unfortunately, it was neither safe nor feasible to attempt the removal of barges and other equipment in the brief period between the storm’s sudden intensification and its ultimate landfall.”
In addition to expressing regret for the impacts caused by “this unfortunate situation,” Skanska pledged to work with FDOT on inspections and to develop a repair plan for the bridge, which serves as a primary connection between Pensacola and the city of Gulf Breeze.
Begun in 2016, the replacement project is northwest Florida’s largest-ever transportation project.
The completed span has carried two-way traffic for a year while Skanska completes a parallel structure and demolishes the old bridge. The project, which also includes a new interchange in downtown Pensacola, had been scheduled for completion in late 2021.
Elsewhere, Sally eroded stretches of Gulf Coast beaches and dumped double-digit rainfall totals on areas of the southeast before moving off the North Carolina coast on Sept. 18. Most of the nearly 600,000 electric utility customers in Alabama and Florida who lost power during the storm were back on line by the end of the weekend.