Plans Begin to Replace Pensacola Bay Bridge
Written by Louis Cooper, www.pnj.com
When a new bridge is built to connect Pensacola to Gulf Breeze, it likely will be in about the same place as the existing, 51-year-old span.
And that’s just fine with Gulf Breeze City Manager Edwin “Buz” Eddy — a departure from the city’s previous position.
“Back in 2002 and 2004, the city wanted the state to consider a more comprehensive look at the circulation of traffic from Escambia to Santa Rosa,” Eddy said. “But we recognize there really isn’t time to do that type of analysis, and we recognize how important U.S. 98 is to the businesses along the highway.”
Eddy was among about 150 people at the first public meeting last week to discuss an effort by the state Department of Transportation to replace the bridge, with construction starting in as soon as 2016. More meetings are expected in both Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.
The existing bridge is safe, according to DOT spokesman Tommie Speights. But it has been deemed “structurally deficient” because of cracks in the road surface, rust in steel components and deterioration to pilings.
The new bridge, estimated to cost $200 million to $330 million, may be shifted slightly to the east or west, Speights said. The project development and environmental study phase of the effort — including the final positioning and construction schedule — should be done by June 2013.
Gena Buchanan, a Pensacola resident and secretary of the Scenic Highway Foundation, is glad the state plans to keep the bridge where it is. Earlier ideas included the possibility of moving the bridge’s northern landing to Scenic Highway, potentially increasing traffic on Scenic Highway.
She also praised plans to include pedestrian and bike lanes on the new span.
But keeping the bridge where it is has drawbacks, too, Buchanan said.
“There are some big live oak trees (on the Pensacola end), and unfortunately, I believe some of those trees will have to be removed,” she said.
Tom Belger, a resident of Baybridge condominiums at the Gulf Breeze foot of the bridge, is concerned, that the new bridge could require land from the complex.
Speights said the project will likely require additional right of way, although where won’t be known until the final design is adopted.
Belger, who is on the board of the Baybridge Condominium Owners Association, hopes that the state will take increased traffic from the new bridge into account for intersections in Gulf Breeze.
“We have a problem right now just getting out into traffic,” Belger said. “Now, when we come out of our complex, we’ve got to cross four lanes of traffic. I think that will become almost impossible with the new bridge.”
“There should be a plan for circulation, accessibility and mobility,” he said. “There should be improvements made by DOT that will assure the city that traffic will still flow and that six lanes of traffic is not going to come to a screeching halt when it hits Fairpoint Drive and U.S. 98.”