PENSACOLA, FL (AP) Three lanes on a hurricane-damaged Interstate 10 bridge spanning Escambia Bay could be open by Thanksgiving, drastically speeding up recent predictions for the structure’s repairs, Florida Department of Transportation officials said.
Earlier this month, officials said traffic might be limited to one lane in each direction for years, until a new bridge could be built. But they now say the bridge can handle traffic on one eastbound lane and two westbound lanes.
In addition, a new six-lane replacement bridge could be built in two to three years, transportation officials said.
Officials still don’t believe they can restore the current bridge to “pre-storm conditions,” Edward Prescott, district secretary of the transportation department told the Pensacola News Journal. But they hope the state can secure federal emergency funding to build the new structure earlier than anticipated, he said.
Spurring forward repairs to the damaged bridge are $1 million in incentives that contractors Gilbert Southern Corp. and Massman Construction Co. stand to earn if work is completed before Dec. 16, state officials said.
On Nov. 4, FDOT spokesman Tommie Speights said an earlier plan to temporarily restore the bridge to two lanes in each direction by mid-December had been abandoned.
It would take too much material and create excessive loads on the bridge’s structure, he said.
Thousands of motorists use the bridge every day, whether traveling between California and Florida’s east coast or crossing between Pensacola on the west side of Escambia Bay and suburban communities on the east side in the Milton area.
Hurricane Ivan’s storm surge ripped out huge sections of the bridge on Sept. 16, closing it until the westbound span was repaired and reopened to traffic going both ways on Oct. 5.
Officials are seeking federal dollars for a replacement bridge but they have neither a timetable nor a cost estimate, Speights said.
Speights said a design-build contract is being considered to expedite the project. It took six months to put together a build-design team for a similar bridge on U.S. 98 and then more than two years to complete construction.