PENSACOLA, FL (AP) Motorists on an Interstate 10 bridge in the Florida Panhandle honked and shouted “thank you” as traffic again flowed freely Oct. 5, nearly three weeks after Hurricane Ivan toppled stretches of the span into Escambia Bay.
Photographs of the bridge with a truck dangling over one of the missing sections symbolized Ivan’s destruction across the northern Gulf Coast in mid-September. Divers found the body of truck driver Roberto Molina Alvarado of Toppenish, WA, in the bay where his cab landed.
The reopening shows “Pensacola again is a city on the move,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said during a ceremony near the spot where Alvarado’s truck was found.
“It’s a symbol for recovery for northwest Florida that is replacing the symbol of that tragic truck driver,” added Gov. Jeb Bush.
Mineta and Bush thanked contractors and state and federal transportation officials who worked as a team to get two lanes of the four-lane bridge reopened only 17 days after a $26.4-million contract was awarded. The bridge reopened at 6:30 a.m., seven days ahead of schedule.
The repairs are being done through of a joint venture between Gilbert Southern of Peachtree City, GA, and Massman Construction Co. of Kansas City, MO, assisted by several subcontractors. Under the terms of the phase one emergency contract, the Gilbert Southern/Massman Construction joint venture was subject to an incentive-disincentive clause of $250,000 a day to get the job done within 24 days.
“Today we reopen this vital link in the nation’s highway system that connects California to Jacksonville,” said Gov. Bush. “Getting commerce moving again will help restore a sense of normalcy to the people in this impacted area.”
During the category three storm, the bridge was hit with a wall of water estimated to be 20 ft. high. The impact of the storm surge knocked 58 spans off the eastbound and westbound bridges and misaligned another 66 spans.
“We all saw the photos of the bridge after Hurricane Ivan slammed into this area on September 16,” said FDOT Secretary Jose Abreu. “It looked like it could have taken months to reopen, but thanks to both FDOT staff and the contractor’s team working around the clock, these temporary repairs were complete in just 17 days.
“The loss of I-10 caused trucks to detour more than 130 miles out of their way. Time is money. That’s why we offer bonus clauses in our contracts to get the job done as soon as possible,” he said.
The contractor began foundation work by driving 28 new piles to support the roadway. The team then lifted existing spans off the eastbound bridge and placed them on missing sections of the westbound bridge. Misaligned spans on the westbound side also were put into proper alignment.
The work also includes building paved crossovers for traffic on I-10 to be routed from the eastbound direction to the westbound bridge and then back over to eastbound I-10.
Joe Richards, Tampa, FL-area manager for Gilbert Southern Corp., said contractors will try to beat a mid-December deadline for opening phase two: the two eastbound lanes. Until then, traffic will flow one lane in each direction on the westbound span.
Phase two of the contract calls for the contractor to repair the eastbound bridge with existing spans and alternating Acrow panel bridges within 90 days. The department owns more than 6,000 linear ft. of the Acrow panels which are prefabricated modular steel bridges.
FDOT officials said due to the extensive damage caused to the bridge by the hurricane, a new, replacement bridge eventually will have to be built across Escambia Bay.
Detours while the bridge was out added at least an hour and often two or three hours to trips between Pensacola and Milton on the east side of the bay.
Approximately 8,000 trucks travel that stretch of I-10 daily along with more thousands of commuters and other travelers.
“We have work in Pensacola,” said Jim Lucassen, who operates a cleaning service with his wife, Pat. “Yesterday it took us an hour and half to get there. Today it took us 20 minutes.”
Retired Army 1st Sgt. George Baxley, of Caryville, FL, was among the first to cross on his way to a doctor’s appointment in Pensacola. He had left home about an hour earlier than normal because he expected to run into a detour.
“When I got there they were just taking down the ribbons they had across it to block it,” Baxley said. “It was a blessing.”
Bush called the quick repairs a “heroic effort.”
As many as 127 workers, many of them volunteering to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime project, toiled around the clock using the latest in rapid repair equipment and techniques to replace damaged bridge sections and, in some cases, pilings, Richards said.
The last section was dropped into place the night of Oct. 4, said Gilbert Southern division manager Scott Cassels.
“I saw lots of handshakes and pats on the back,” Cassels said. “I even saw a hug or two. When you see contractors hug, it’s a special event.”
Cassels then got a hug from Bush.
AP Photo: During the category three storm, the bridge was hit with a wall of water estimated to be 20 ft. high. The impact of the storm surge knocked 58 spans off the eastbound and westbound bridges and misaligned another 66 spans.