It appears likely that the Pensacola Bay Bridge will take longer to repair than initially expected.
After a loose construction barge owned by Skanska USA knocked a chunk of roadway out of the bridge Wednesday during Hurricane Sally, Florida Sen. Doug Broxson estimated at the time that the damage would take 30-60 days to repair.
On Monday, following a meeting with Florida Department of Transportation officials, Broxson said the structure is "unsafe to dive under," meaning forensic divers originally set to dive into the Gulf of Mexico early this week to properly assess the damage cannot do so at this time.
"There is some instability below the surface and there are certain areas divers cannot get to yet," Broxson said Monday. "So it's delayed the complete appraisal needed to fix the bridge."
Broxson said it could take a week or more to determine that complete appraisal.
►Barge fallout affecting residential areas: Homeowners struggle to reach Skanska as new aerial images show at least 20 barges displaced by Hurricane Sally
What happened to the bridge during Hurricane Sally
During the storm, a crane passed under the bridge and smashed through the surface of the road from beneath. The collision happened a day after a different Skanska USA barge had broken loose and struck a fishing pier before becoming lodged beneath the bridge on Tuesday morning.
The bridge has been closed since Sept. 15 and there is no timeline for its reopening. FDOT noted in a press release Monday that motorists heading to Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach should continue to use all available detour routes, which include the Garcon Point Bridge and State Road 87.
Tolls on the Garcon Point Bridge have been suspended through 6 a.m. Wednesday. The suspension of toll costs on the privately-owned Garcon Point Bridge is enforced through Executive Order 20-224 signed by Gov. DeSantis on Sept. 16. That order has since been amended and Broxson expects it to be amended again before Wednesday.
"I think there's a plan to extend (the executive order) beyond Wednesday," Broxson said. "And hopefully it will be indefinite. I don't think it's going to be lifted any time soon."
Through preliminary damage assessments, experts have determined that at least five of the 105 Pensacola Bay Bridge spans to be irreparable, according to FDOT. Those spans will have to be reconstructed.
►'What do we do?': Days after Sally, barges stuck in yards of Pensacola Bay homeowners
Broxson said 30 spans in total were impacted in some way.
"We know that up to 30 spans were compromised by the barges in some way," Broxson. "It may be minor damage, it may be significant. If it's more significant and we find out it's more than five spans, then we'll up that number."
'The responsible parties will certainly have to account for themselves'
During multiple meetings and conference calls with FDOT over the last several days, Broxson said there hasn't been much discussion on Skanska's role in the damage the bridge sustained during Hurricane Sally. But he said those conversations will surface sooner or later.
"The responsible parties will certainly have to account for themselves," he said. "The people we're dealing with at FDOT are not lawyers, they wouldn't speculate on litigation. Their goal is to work with Skanska to get the bridge to be functional again as soon as possible What that looks like as far as who pays for it, that's not something they're looking at right now, but it will definitely be considered as the bills come in."
At least 20 Skanska barges have been identified through NOAA aerial photos depicting Hurricane Sally's damage. FDOT's Monday press release confirmed that Skanska has dispatched a community outreach team and insurance claim specialists to assist impacted property owners.
Property owners impacted by Skanska’s barges or other equipment during Hurricane Sally should contact them at email@example.com.
Jake Newby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8538.
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