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Old Escambia Bay Bridge to Support Marine Life as Reef

Wed May 10, 2006 - Southeast Edition
CEG



PENSACOLA, FL (AP) The damaged Interstate 10 bridge over Escambia Bay is set to become a concrete haven for fish and other marine life.

The 2.5-mi. (4 km) bridge is in line to be sunk in the Large Area Artificial Reef Site, which encompasses about 125 sq. mi. (324 sq km) in the Gulf of Mexico, about 20 mi. (32 km) south of Pensacola, officials said.

Hurricane Ivan wrecked the bridge in September 2004, with pieces of the structure ripped away by the bay’s roiling waters. A wider, taller, $243 million bridge is under construction.

Workers could begin dismantling the old I-10 bridge in January or February. The contractor has a $10 million incentive to finish the new eastbound span, which will handle four lanes of traffic, by Dec. 29.

“Once there are four lanes across the bay, the contractor will start demolishing the old bridges,” said Bryan Estock, project manager for the I-10 bridge replacement project.

The USS Oriskany, an 880-ft. decommissioned aircraft carrier, is scheduled to be sunk May 17 in the artificial reef area. It will join M-60 tanks, parts of oil rigs and sunken tug boats already on the Gulf bottom.

The old U.S. 90 bridge over the Escambia River, the old Bayou Chico drawbridge and the old Blackwater River bridge also have become artificial reefs. But the I-10 bridge has more concrete than all of those bridges combined.

Merrick VanLandingham, a dive pro in Pensacola, said the naturally flat and sandy floor of the gulf is not good habitat for fish.

“Things like concrete rubble are fantastic reef material. It doesn’t rust, it doesn’t get blown away and the fish love it,” VanLandingham said. “Whenever something goes down, that’s like your oasis in the desert.”

Workers will remove iron from the bridge before it is sunk.