After a loose construction barge overturned a piece of road on the Pensacola Bay Bridge during Hurricane Sally, Florida Senator Doug Broxson estimated the damage could take a month or more to repair.
The senator confirmed that during the storm, a crane went under the bridge and struck the road surface from below. The collision occurred a day after another construction barge owned by contractor Skanska USA broke loose and struck a fishing pier before lodging under the Pensacola Bay bridge on Tuesday morning.
The bridge was closed immediately and was never reopened, before being hit again in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday.
Broxson said the contractor made the decision not to move the equipment out of the area based on projections showing Hurricane Sally making landfall well west of Pensacola. Instead, it landed near Gulf Shores, Alabama, leaving Pensacola on the devastating side of winds and rain.
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The barge was only one of many barges that broke loose. Five stranded near downtown – four just west of the Missing Children’s Memorial and one in front of the Gulf Power building – and a sixth was drifting towards Escambia Bay and the Interstate 10 Bridge when it pulled out. stranded about half a mile from another collision.
A seventh barge floated freely and got stuck against the Garcon Point bridge, forcing the bridge to remain closed until road crews could inspect it. Santa Rosa County Emergency Management said the barge struck the bridge around 4 p.m. and was not secure or tied to anything.
Skanska did not respond to questions regarding the number and location of its barges that had been dislodged by the storm.
“We are aware of the impact on the Pensacola Bay Bridge project resulting from the unanticipated effects of Hurricane Sally,” the company said via email. “At this time, our main priority is the safety of our team members and the surrounding community. We remain in close contact with local authorities and the Florida Department of Transportation, and will assess the total impact of the project in coordination with them once it’s safe to do so. “
A DOT spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that staff would inspect damage to local structures once conditions were safe to do so and provide updates on their status.
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The damaged Pensacola Bay Bridge, often referred to as the Three Mile Bridge locally, is only part of a handful of arteries between Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, and Broxson said officials of the State were doing what they could to minimize the impact on citizens while the bridge is out of service.
“We are trying to suspend the tolls indefinitely until this bridge is rehabilitated, which will probably last 30 to 60 days at least,” he said.
Broxson said he, like his constituents, was standing still and shocked and wrapping his head around the devastation caused by Hurricane Sally. In the short term, he said the goal for him and for the state would be to help ensure communities are safe and accessible.
“I think what we’re probably prioritizing is trying to strengthen our transportation and infrastructure, making sure people are safe, that they’re not stranded,” Broxson said Wednesday afternoon. “Then we’ll have a conference call tonight with Director Jared Moskowitz and his team from the Florida Emergency Management Division about funding that we need immediately and would like the state to move forward to take. caring for people who might be in trouble or having problems with their neighborhood where they cannot go out. “
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Broxson said things were moving quickly given the storm hit less than 12 hours ago, but noted that there would still be a lot of unknowns about the total damage.
For now, “I think the Bay Bridge is the big deal,” Broxson said.
The Florida Department of Transportation secretary is expected to have discussions with Skansa about the consequences of the collisions, Broxson said, but in the long term, state officials hope to recoup the cost of the damage in their federal emergency claim. Management agency.
“It’s certainly not human error – not moving may have been human error – but the fact that he got dislodged was caused by a natural disaster, and we’ll see what (FEMA) takes is to help us get the resources to put that bridge back in place immediately. “
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Questioning whether federal funding for the CARES Act might be a possible funding avenue for disaster relief and reconstruction efforts, Broxson said it was unlikely. However, he noted that FEMA has traditionally worked with governments to ensure they have what they need to recover.
Broxson said documents had already been sent to Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties to begin the process of selecting contractors for the debris removal. He said that at first governments would likely borrow from themselves, but FEMA had been reliable in reimbursing local expenses in the event of a disaster, even if it took some time.
On a personal note, Broxson estimated he had received about five feet of flooding on his property and said he lost a boat, dock and several vehicles. Broxson said he and his family were safe and, at the moment, he was mainly in disbelief about the Sally disaster, especially since it had been classified as a Category 2 hurricane.
“I think when you get the reports from the coast between here and Navarre along the beach, every man-made structure is going to have to be replaced… it’s unprecedented,” Broxson said.
“There will remain an Ivan,” Broxson said, referring to a devastating hurricane that ravaged Pensacola exactly 16 years ago. “I think over the next few days, when you see the damage it’s done, it’ll shock you.”
Kevin Robinson can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8527.