I-10 bridge damaged by Ivan reopens

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Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday, Dec. 19, cut the red ribbon opening the new Interstate 10 bridge across Escambia Bay, reopening a major artery for motorists in northwest Florida who have dealt with 27 months of traffic jams due to Hurricane Ivan’s destruction.

The opening means a $10 million bonus to the contractor who completed the first phase of the $245 million project eight days ahead of schedule, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. ”This means moms can get back home to their kids earlier, that workers can get to work earlier,” declared Bush as truckers passing the roadside ceremony honked greetings.

Engineers determined that Ivan’s 20-foot storm surge in September 2004 lifted and tossed the concrete decking of the old 2.5-mile bay bridge. The replacement project is only halfway completed — one of the twin spans is finished, and workers are still pouring pilings for the second. For now, the first span, built to handle three lanes of eastbound traffic, will carry eastbound and westbound motorists, divided by concrete barriers. The second span is due to be finished by November 2007.

Wider, higher and stronger than the old bridge, the new version was designed to withstand future hurricanes, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Bush. ”It takes more than money to build a bridge,” said Peters, whose agency contributed $230 million for the project.

The bridge will help future storm evacuations, including refugees from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi forced to flee east, said Florida Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate. The structure also is intended to meet Florida’s future development needs, Fugate said, including trucks moving goods west from the deepwater port in Jacksonville. ”I-10 had been reduced to a two-lane road,” Fugate told the Democrat. “Reopening it is a key note in that whole area.”