By Duwayne Escobedo
Susan Woolf is already in the process of moving from Gulf Breeze to Pensacola to avoid future traffic snarls during the construction of the new six-lane Pensacola Bay Bridge.
“I’ve lived in Gulf Breeze most of my life,” the government attorney said. “I’ve watched the traffic increase tremendously over the years. That’s why I’m moving to Pensacola right now.”
But bridge builders are obligated by its contract with the Florida Department of Transportation to always have at least two lanes open during the $398.5 million project, which is scheduled to begin in April or May this year and be completed by July 27, 2020. It can only go down to two lanes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., while the replacement bridge is under construction during that more than three-year period.
To make sure traffic flows continuously, once the eastbound portion of the bridge running parallel to the current bridge into Gulf Breeze is completed Jan. 27, 2019, four lanes of traffic will shift to it temporarily. And the current 57-year-old Pensacola Bay Bridge will be demolished.
The new Pensacola Bay Bridge replaces the current four-lane one opened Oct. 31, 1960 that has suffered from hurricanes over the years and a collision by a barge in 1989. The first two-lane draw bridge that covered the three miles over the bay opened in June 1931.
It will include 10-foot multi-use paths separated from vehicles crossing the bridge with shaded observation points under overhangs that are leaf-shaped. There are three 12-foot lanes and two 10-foot shoulders on the inside and outside of those lanes.
To add to the bridge’s attraction are two 150-foot arches that are lighted by LED lights that can shine any color of the rainbow. Sketches of the project, which drew hundreds of interested citizens Tuesday night to the Pensacola Grand Hotel, had the arches a popping blue color.
“I really like what I see,” said Gulf Breeze resident Mike Owen, a realtor. “I would like to see the traffic circle and fly overs done to. A lot of thought and planning has obviously gone into this.”
Owen will likely get his wish with the Florida Department of Transportation planning to hold a meeting April 11 on those features. The roundabout will handle traffic from 17th Avenue in Pensacola on and off the bridge. The fly overs, or elevated roads, will take direct traffic to Gregory Street and Bayfront Parkway in Pensacola.
The features, which are the top priority of the local Transportation Planning Organization, are estimated to add about $25 million to the final design of the replacement bridge prospect.
The bridge work also has strict environmental requirements. For instance, to protect endangered Gulf Sturgeons, pilings can only get hammered in on the Gulf Breeze side of the bridge between June 1 and October 1. Bridge builders must also create a bubble curtain around the pilings to protect sea wildlife from potentially damaging vibrations from the pilings going in. Finally, the builder is required to maintain a minimum of a 100-foot gap for fish to and other sea life to swim through.
If you missed Tuesday’s meeting, you can still weigh in at www.pensacolabaybridge.com/survey. You can also stay informed on bridge progress at the website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, by text (enter the keyword MyPBB to 313131, or sign up for the newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call 850-542-0460.
Design: Fall 2016 – Early 2018
Roadway Approach Work
Phase 1: Spring 2017 – Early 2018
Phase 2: Early 2019 – Summer 2020
Phase 1: Summer 2017 – Spring 2018
Phase 2: Spring 2019 – Summer 2020
Superstructure – Beams & Deck
High-Rise: Westbound Bridge Fall 2017 – Summer 2018
High-Rise: Eastbound Bridge Early 2018-Late 2018
Low-Rise: Eastbound Bridge Summer 2017 – Fall 2018; Westbound Bridge Spring 2019 – Spring 2020
Shift Traffic to new Eastbound Bridge: Early 2019
Demolition of Existing Westbound Bridge: Early 2019-Spring 2020
Shift Traffic to new Westbound Bridge: Summer 2020
Project Completion: Summer 2020