One of the bells and whistles to be part of the new Pensacola Bay Bridge debuted Thursday when workers placed a shiny, 83-foot-tall steel arch atop the eastbound section of the span.
The $427 million bridge, under construction since 2017 and delayed by weather and faulty work on its concrete deck, is nevertheless starting to look like the project that has been promised in PowerPoint presentations by the Florida Department of Transportation and general contractor Skanska USA.
“The arch is a signature architectural element for the new bridge that will also provide structural support for the multi-use path included in the bridge,” said FDOT in a press release.
Though largely cosmetic, the arch lends support to the overall bridge structure and is connected to the base by thick nylon straps. As arches go, while visually impressive, the new one over Pensacola Bay is decidedly smaller than the famed St. Louis Gateway Arch, which at 630 feet tall is the biggest manmade monument in the Western Hemisphere.
The new bridge is planned to have two parallel spans, each with three travel lanes and 10-foot-wide multiuse paths for pedestrians and bicyclists. When the first three-lane section is completed over three miles of Pensacola Bay, traffic will flow in both directions while the existing bridge is demolished and the second section—west to east—is built.
The arch, which is the first of two that will ultimately bracket the center of the bridge, is 375 feet long and weighs 800,000 pounds.
FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said the bridge work is on schedule to be completed in mid-2021 despite the discovery last year of cracks on its concrete deck that number more than 3,000.
Satter said most of those cracks have now been fixed, some by extensive buffing in the case of superficial defects—others by injecting an epoxy sealant and/or replacing concrete sections altogether.
Satter said FDOT is satisfied with the repair work but he wasn’t immediately sure if the agency continues to withhold $573,000 that it had delayed in payment to Skanska because of the cracks.