All six lanes of the new Pensacola Bay Bridge have opened on the largest transportation project in Northwest Florida’s history.
The $440 million project on U.S. 98 between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze suffered a major setback along the way when 27 construction barges came loose September 16, 2020, during Hurricane Sally. Barges crashed into the bridge’s eastbound span, which had just recently been constructed, as well as into nearby private property. Spans had to be replaced or rebuilt. Beams and piers also had to be replaced.
A westbound span was under construction at the time. Work began on the overall project in 2017. The old four-lane bridge, built in 1960, was demolished, and the eastbound span was serving as the main bridge until the westbound section was completed. The four-lane bridge was closed after the hurricane until repairs were completed in June 2021. Lane shifts occurred during the remaining construction.
On February 13, 2023, the new westbound span’s three lanes opened. It and the eastbound span each handled two lanes of traffic.
Then on March 23, all three travel lanes on the eastbound bridge opened, marking all six new lanes open to traffic.
The second of two bike and walking paths opened March 31 on the westbound bridge. The first of the 10-foot-wide paths was completed in April 2022 on the eastbound span.
Skanska is the general contractor on the project and owned the 27 barges that came loose. Several other teams were brought in to help with the repairs that affected 21 spans, 21 pedestrian path beams, 66 I-beams, five trophy pieces, and 30 piles, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.
Skanska has been sued by homeowners, commuters and businesses over the damages caused by the barges. It lost its case in federal court after a judge ruled Skanska was negligent in not better preparing the barges before the Category 2 storm struck. Skanska has appealed that decision. It argues that it prepared as well as it could for the storm that was stronger than expected.
Construction continues on the new bridge. Crews are placing the “friction course,” the final layer of asphalt, on the roadway and other work list items, according to FDOT. Intermittent lane closures are still underway. The completion of the bridge project is expected later this spring.
The bridge handles on average 60,000 vehicles a day. It will be named in honor of U.S. Air Force Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James. A native of Pensacola, James was the first African-American four-star general in U.S. military history.