City: Bay bridge lacks appeal

Posted on July 23, 2016 by Mat Pellegrino

After viewing the conceptual drawings of the new Pensacola Bay Bridge that were submitted by contract winner Skanska USA Civil Southeast last week, City of Gulf Breeze Mayor Matt Dannheisser said the bridge design is adequate enough to serve its purpose.
“The design, which was selected, accomplished the function of getting cars from one side of the bridge to the other,” Dannheisser expressed to South Santa Rosa News earlier this week.
But while the concrete sidewalks and 6-lane span serves its purpose, the mayor said the design will have to be something the city discusses in the near future—before ground breaks on the nearly $400 million project. “From a design standpoint, especially compared to other submittals, it’s rather unexciting,” Dannheisser said.
All four city council members seemed to agree with the Mayor when they were asked about their opinion on Skanska’s conceptual drawings.
“It’s plain, it’s boring, but with today’s budget cuts and lack of money, it is what it is,” said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Henderson.  “I wasn’t expecting much.”
Last Wednesday, after the designs were unveiled, the Gulf Breeze City Council threw around the idea of forming a group that could take a hard look at all 5 of design  submittals given to the FDOT selection committee responsible for choosing the bay bridge contractor. That group could then suggest ways to perhaps  incorporate some of the other firm’s design elements  into Skanska’s proposal to give the bridge more “eclectic features.”
“Seeing that Skanska was $60 million less than what FDOT had budgeted for construction….perhaps features from other submittals could be added to Skanska’s proposal,” Dannheisser said.
FDOT District 3 spokesman Ian Satter said since Skanska came under budget, FDOT could utilize the extra $60 million that’s left in the bridge budget to make the bridge “more appealing”.
Despite not being blown away by the design, Henderson said he was doubtful that FDOT would use the extra money to enhance the design of the bridge.
“When have you ever seen any government agency, when something comes under bid, they not want to save the money for something else instead of improving it? I think it would be great if we could corral that extra money and make it a better bridge,” Henderson said.
The Mayor Pro Tem said he wasn’t sure what those extra funds could do aesthetically for the bridge.
“If they gave me examples and said ‘Here’s what you can do with $60 million’, if you give me a choice, I could point something out,” Henderson said. “I don’t know what $60 million buys you. Does it buy you another arch?”
Henderson said he had a chance to look at the other firms’ proposals and said he could easily take elements from each submittal and add it to Skanska’s proposed design.
“Would $60 million buy 3 or 4 more arches? I think I would definitely take a little bit from each firm and add it to the bridge if I had the choice,” Henderson said. “On the other plans, they had big monuments and pediments that kind of stuck out with (city) seals on it. Or with the lighting; it would be cool to have the lights change based on what’s happening (around the country) like they do at the White House.”
When Gulf Breeze City Councilwoman Renee Bookout was asked what she thought of the design proposals, she only had one thing to say:
The city councilwoman said she was expecting more from the design standpoint on the bridge since it will be something that will serve the area for decades to come.
“I think that if we’re going to go through all of this trouble to have a bridge that we’re going to be living with for years and years, you would think that….throwing a little arch on there, it’s not even worth whatever that’s going to cost. Either get rid of it or really give it something architecturally pleasing,” Bookout said. “Structurally I can’t attest to how well it’s going to be built.
Bookout’s biggest drawback? The arches in the middle of the bridge.
“I just think even the span of the arch, it really looks like it was an afterthought. For the amount of time and energy that was put into this we should do the best we can to make sure we do it right. We’re really only going to get one chance,” she said.
Councilwoman Cherry Fitch said she thought the designer should have done a better job at utilizing funds to add better architectural elements to make it more appealing.
“I was anticipating a bridge design that would have more distinctive and interesting architectural features that would also give a bigger visual impact and statement for our area,” Fitch told South Santa Rosa News.
City Manager Edwin “Buz” Eddy, who was at the meeting when they selected Skanska as the winner of the bay bridge contract, stated that there could be a way to incorporate design aspects from other firms into Skanska’s design proposals, so long as FDOT approves it. And so long as the bid comes in at the $398.5 million Skanska proposed.
“(Last week) Robert Turpin, a local resident who’s knowledgeable with boating suggested that the boat ramp in Wayside Park be angled so that it’s not straight back into the wind as it has been for years,” Eddy said.
The city manager said the city could look into acquiring the debris from the old Pensacola Bay Bridge— once it’s demolished— to build up a seawall near the Wayside Park boat ramp.
“We talked to the contractor and DOT about the reclamation of land using debris from the removal of the current bridge for installation of a seawall to shore up the bridge landing itself,” Eddy said.
While looking over the Skanska’s design proposals two weeks ago, Eddy said there was one thing that caught his eye.
“There was a note that the pictures, which are not the final design, doesn’t show any sort of ramp from the parking area from Wayside Park to the pedestrian level on the bridge. We’re going to want to monitor the design process as it continues over the next few months to see if that changes,” Eddy said. “We wanted traffic to be able to go under the bridge, and (Skanska) accomplished that. We wanted a right turn off of Hwy. 98 to access the east side, and a right turn off of Hwy. 98 to access the west side, which has occurred as well.”
FDOT District 3 spokesman Ian Satter said that Skanska’s bid of $398.5 million could allow the City of Pensacola, City of Gulf Breeze and the public to have a say on what to add to the bridge. But it’s too early in the process to determine whether FDOT will allow them to have their input on utilizing those extra funds in order to do that.
“If the bid turns out to be as low as it appears…once you take care of those items (in their original design), if there is money available to add features that residents or city council wants, I think DOT would be open to that,” Eddy said.