‘A disaster’: Businesses struggle as Pensacola Bay Bridge reopening delayed

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PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — The Florida Department of Transportation announced Thursday the reopening of the Pensacola Bay Bridge would be delayed.

FDOT said new damage to the bridge was discovered, which led the department of transportation to announce the bridge would likely not reopen on time.

FDOT had previously announced the bridge would be open in some capacity by March 22, but now officials say the bridge’s reopening could be delayed as far as Memorial Day.

“A trophy piece that was considered not damaged shifted and indicated there’s some instability in the pilings,” State Representative Alex Andrade told WKRG News 5. “The suggested timeframe for a Memorial Day reopening is a conservative estimate because we’re not exactly sure how much repair and work is needed.”

The announcement comes as a gut punch to beach businesses who rely on the bridge to connect Pensacola residents to their establishments.

“It felt like a punch in the stomach,” Andrade said. “When we announced two lanes were opening at the end of this month, it gave a lot of people hope. This discovery and new announcement takes that hope away right now.”

Paddy O’Leary’s owner Gary Humphrey said the announcement was another obstacle he and his business would have to overcome.

Humphrey said if the bridge was open, he figured his pub would be at least a half capacity on Friday afternoon. Instead, every seat was available.

“(It’s a) disaster,” Humphrey said. “It’s a continuing punishment. We lost 50% of our business and we’re still going to continue to lose business.”

Humphrey said the only challenge he’s faced in business that could compare to the pandemic and the bridge closure would be Hurricane Ivan in 2004. He had to rebuild and the pub was closed from September to New Year’s Eve.

Tricia Horton of Cumaru Bar said she, too, has seen a decrease in Pensacola customers who just come out to the Pensacola Beach Marina to grab a quick bite. The bridge’s closure means Pensacola residents must commute to the beach from the Garçon Point area or Highway 87.

“The bridge (being out) puts an extra hour on your commute out there,” Horton said. “It’s just not really worth that kind of a drive.”

Business owners like Humphrey still are unsettled about what they consider negligence by Skanksa, the construction contractor responsible building the bridge, for allegedly not securing their barges during Hurricane Sally.

“First of all, if they’re your barges, you tie them up. You know the storm is out there and you know it’s going to come in,” Humphrey said.
“It wasn’t like it was moving fast. It was only moving two miles an hour. To let it do that kind of damage to that bridge was unconscionable. Not only did they damage the bridge and hurt themselves — they hurt everyone else.”

Humphrey said his business should be OK, if he isn’t forced to shut down again due to the pandemic. He’s making due by ordering liquors in small quantities — missing out on discounts he could get if he bought in bulk.

But some businesses in the area might not make it if the bridge’s Memorial Day reopening is delayed further.

“Memorial Day is actually the beginning of the tourist season here,” he said. “But I don’t know how many people are going to be booking hotels here if they can’t get across the bridge.”

Skanska still contends it is not responsible for the damaged bridge.

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