Progress is being made on restoring land access to island communities in Florida that were cut off when bridges were damaged during Hurricane Ian last week.
The Florida Department of Transportation reports that access to Pine Island has been restored as of October 5 with a temporary bridge replacing the damaged Matlacha Pass Bridge. It is currently only open for emergency vehicles and first responders. FDOT estimates the Sanibel Causeway, which washed out under several sections, will be repaired and accessible by the end of October. A contract was awarded October 4 for causeway repairs, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Within 24 hours after I asked FDOT to get involved, we had more than 130 trucks rolling in and crews got to work,” DeSantis said. “We made it a priority, and we didn’t just get it done – we got it done quick. I want to thank the dedicated FDOT crews for working around the clock to restore the community’s access to Pine Island.”
Both Pine and Sanibel islands in southwest Florida in Lee County near Fort Myers have been isolated from the mainland since the Category 4 made landfall September 28. Barges and helicopters have been the main form of access for search, rescue, recovery and relief efforts.
FDOT said it is assisting Lee County in expediting emergency repairs to roads and bridges to Pine Island and has been mobilizing equipment – including 130 trucks – materials and crews. “Our goal is for residents and first responders to have drivable access within 7 days,” the agency tweeted October 3.
“These repairs are needed for first responders and residents to access the island, as well as other recovery efforts such as power restoration and debris removal,” says a Lee County government update.
A bridge stability analysis will be performed on the causeway, says FDOT Secretary Jared W. Perdue. Work ranges from repairing bridge approaches to restoring the road across most of the causeway.
“It is anticipated to have the Sanibel Causeway accessible by the end of October,” according to FDOT. “Once immediate recovery efforts have subsided, permanent long-term repairs will be made to the causeway. The emergency repairs being done now will offer a safe passage for immediate access and will also be incorporated into long-term repair plans. This means that repairs being done now will tie into work that will be needed for permanent repairs.”
The City of Sanibel Island is allowing limited access by residents starting October 5 via private watercraft at their own risk. They are allowed in from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. A curfew will be in effect all other times. Returning residents can “inspect their properties, remove personal property and attempt to mitigate any property damage,” the city says.
Other bridges in Lee County also remain closed south of Fort Myers Beach and north of Bonita Beach. They are New Pass, Big Carlos Pass Bridge and Big Hickory Pass Bridge. The county says it is coordinating with FDOT for temporary and permanent repairs for the bridges.
FDOT reports that all accessible state-owned bridge inspections have been completed, and it is assisting with inspections on locally owned bridges.
The agency says it has “cleared nearly all of Florida’s roads that were impacted by the storm with Cut and Toss operations.”
On October 2, officers with the Ocala Police Department and Marion County Sheriff’s Office provided security for a crane operation to remove a state Highway Patrol cruiser from floodwaters in Hardee County. The car had been there since September 29 when the road washed out from underneath it.
“The trooper was able to escape through the window and swim to a tree and radio for help,” the Ocala Police Department posted on Facebook. “Thankfully, the trooper was unharmed.”