Pensacola resident Julie Bingham has cycled across entire states, but she made local history Monday morning when she was one of the first cyclists to cross the Pensacola Bay Bridge’s new multi-use path.
Bingham said she’s been eagerly waiting for the three-mile path to open ever since traffic shifted onto the new span last year. She had previously crossed the old bridge on her bike several times to go to the beach.
“I had to cross the bridge on the street side, so it’s really dangerous,” Bingham said. “My church is on the other side (in Gulf Breeze) so I may be attending my church on the other side and I’ll go to the beach.”
The multi-use path opened almost a year after traffic was shifted off of the old bridge and onto the new bridge span. The path’s opening was delayed by a railing redesign, as well as a grounded safety test team because of travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The opening of the multi-use path has been much anticipated by cycling and accessibility advocates, with some cyclists even getting on the path during a tour for elected officials and media before it officially opened to the public.
State Sen. Doug Broxson, who has been vocal about the need to open the path, said it boils down to a safety issue.
“I think we were in a countdown if somebody was going to get hurt,” Broxson said. “I’ve been across that bridge and watched people try to be in that little short (emergency) lane and it was frightening, frankly. Terrifying.”
He said the path also expands accessibility and provides greater access to the waterfront.
“People come to Florida because of this, because of the water. No matter what your economic background or what your situation is in life, if you’ve never been in a boat, on a boat, you can come for three miles and have an uninterrupted view,” Broxson said.
Broxson was joined by Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson and Gulf Breeze Mayor Cherry Fitch on the utility cart tour of the multi-use path with contractor Skanska.
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“I think it’s a great public amenity for us that you’ll be able to walk into and ride your bike across. I expect to see it well utilized,” Robinson said at his weekly news conference Monday. “This is one of the things that I worked very hard when I was at the county and dealt with this on the TPO to have this feature involved in this. I think it’s going to be an incredible asset for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, certainly the city of Gulf Breeze and the city of Pensacola.”
Thomas Fulton, vice president of operations for Skanska, said the next milestone for the Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement project will be finishing pile driving on the Gulf Breeze side this week and the Pensacola side in October.
The $430 million project is scheduled to be complete in November 2021, depending on weather delays.
Traffic was moved to the new westbound lane bridge off the old bridge in September 2019 to allow for demolition and construction of the eastbound lane span.
“There have been months and years of hard work that has gone into this. I’ve been here present when we actually opened it. It’s a memorable occasion,” Fulton said.
Pensacola News Journal reporter Jim Little contributed to this story.
Madison Arnold can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8522.