Westbound span of Pensacola Bay bridge gets target opening date. Learn when:
The Florida Department of Transportation has set a target date of Feb. 13 to reopen the westbound span of the Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. Bridge, though that date may slip forward or backward a few days, according to state officials.
The replacement of the twin bridges connecting Pensacola to Gulf Breeze began in spring 2017. The eastbound span of the bridge was reopened to traffic in September 2019, however it was closed again in September 2020 after Hurricane Sally pushed unsecured construction barges into the bridge, forcing eight months of repairs.
Despite the setbacks, the eastbound span was reopened in May 2021 and the westbound span is on track to be open by mid-month.
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At long last: Pensacola Bay Bridge's westbound span on pace to open in January or February
Sen. Doug Broxson said Friday morning that it was important to take a moment to recognize all that had been accomplished, noting the end result was a "safe, beautiful" bridge that would serve the community for decades to come.
"Today we want to celebrate those men and women, blue collar workers that have been there day and night, in cold and in hot, and have delivered us a project that's unprecedented for the Panhandle," Broxson said. "A bridge that is the biggest public project we've ever had. It's going to make a statement not only for our region but for the state, and it's going to be an economic driver that we've not seen before."
The project includes over $430 million in improvements for the area, which, in addition to the bridge itself, included the replacement of the signalized intersection at U.S. Highway 98 and 17th Avenue with a roundabout, overpass bridge and additional ramps. On the Gulf Breeze side of the bridge, the project included a vastly expanded parking area beneath the southern bridge landing with eastbound and westbound ramps to access U.S. 98.
Once completed, each span of the bridge will provide three, 12-foot center travel lanes with 10-foot wide shoulders on either side. There will also be a 10-foot wide pedestrian path on each of the spans.
In the near term, traffic will be limited to two lanes while construction teams complete some finishing touches, and the opening of the pedestrian path on the westbound span will be delayed due to material supply delays.
On Friday morning, Broxson led a contingent of journalists and elected officials on a driving tour of the westbound span.
After the tour, Rep. Alex Andrade noted the construction of the bridge had not been perfect and had created some "historic problems" for the community, including "lives lost" among motorists involved in collisions during the extended commute to the Garcon Point Bridge during the eight-month bridge closure.
Still, he said, "It's exciting to stand on the second span and see all the concrete has finally been laid and really all that's left is some new striping, some more reflective markers being done and signing off on those being safe before this bridge is finally done. I was joking with Senator Broxson the other day, I'm just excited to celebrate the culmination of a very long state contract and then hopefully get to celebrate for a moment before we get back to other business representing the community."
Skanska, the construction firm contracted by the state to build to bridge, reportedly failed to follow its own storm safety protocols during Hurricane Sally, resulting in construction barges being scattered around the Pensacola Bay area and damaging public and private property.
There are an array of lawsuits pending against Skanska from businesses and property owners who are seeking to recoup losses from the barge damage and resulting eight-month bridge closure.
Andrade noted one bright spot is that the outage of the bridge had allowed local and state officials to identify and begin shoring up other problem spots in the transportation network.
The Gen. 'Chappie' James bridge is almost done, but what's the progress on his monument?
"If this bridge had not been damaged, they wouldn't have had the opportunity to point out the issues with Garcon Point (Bridge) sufficiently enough for ... the state to justify taking Garcon Point Bridge over and reducing that toll," Andrade said, crediting Broxson and former Rep, Jayer Williamson for leading that effort.
"We're not getting just one state bridge out of this disaster and recovery, we're getting two and we're gonna see other opportunities in the future, I think, to fix a lot more potholes on city roads."
Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender, who represents Pensacola Beach, said both Santa Rosa and Escambia counties are working to implement an automated transit management system that will help the city manage traffic volume and safety data.
"We're working with the city of Pensacola to get the the intersection of Bayfront and Chase streets to have some some infrastructure that we can talk to it and and get data from that, so we can truly see how long it's taking people to get to the beach — from Pensacola across the bridge through Gulf Breeze and not just from the intersection at Chick-fil-A that we've been giving data for, for the last couple of years," Bender said.
Broxson said there will likely be a formal grand opening event when the westbound span is opened for public use.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Westbound Three Mile Bridge traffic in Pensacola set to open soon