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The Key to Bridging Two Communities Together

By Dan Kristoff

May 3, 2016


The Pensacola Bay Bridge, which runs three miles between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze, Florida, has become an iconic structure since its opening in 1960. A critical link to US 98, the bridge provides vacationers with access to popular beaches, has recreational park facilities at both ends, and is visible for miles from surrounding locations.


Replacing an Icon

Since 2000, the bridge was determined to be chronically congested and rapidly deteriorating.  When discussions of a replacement bridge began, the two cities had many concerns regarding the effects of replacing the bridge. In 2003, the FDOT attempted a PD&E Study for a new bridge, but public controversy scuttled the project.

Battling years of concerns, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) eventually brought both sides of the bay together by virtue of an in-depth public involvement program. Currently, the FDOT is pursuing a design-build bridge replacement project with the selection of a contractor in July 2016.


Project Development & the Environment

After being selected for the Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study, RS&H provided the documentation and information necessary for the FDOT to reach a decision on the feasibility, location, and conceptual design of a replacement. Current and future traffic demand, social impacts, environmental impacts, community values, aesthetic considerations, and engineering principles were all taken into consideration.

We completed the study in May 2015, securing approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for compliance with the provisions of both the Section 4(f) statute that protects park property and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures.

We’ve also been contracted by the FDOT to develop 60 percent design plans, completed right-of-way plans, and currently are assisting with the design-build procurement process by securing permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Coast Guard.

Gulf Breeze Approach

Involving the Public

Working in collaboration with the FDOT, our team presented a public outreach program to secure critical information regarding the bridge location and recreational areas. One element that proved to be key to building consensus was the formation of a very active Project Advisory Group, which included community leaders, local government officials, adversaries, and businesses from both sides of the bay.

Ground rules established for the group required transparent decision making, respect for everyone’s position, and that regional importance would outweigh parochial issues. Another element that helped public consensus was the continued use of opinion surveys to gather information regarding community values directly related to the issues specific to the project.

Pensacola Approach


The Results?

The group was able to diffuse the concerns that existed between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze by elevating the recreational areas from their individual community perspective to their collective regional importance and developing a solution that incorporated connectivity between the parks and provided specific improvements that will improve each park for its own merits.

When complete, the communities will have a safe, efficient, and a new iconic bridge that meets modern industry standards. It will include aesthetic requirements for bridge railing, overhead lighting, scenic pedestrian overlooks, enhanced structural elements, and LED accent lighting.

Context sensitive design elements include multi-modal features for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the bay, better access to the fishing piers, improvements to the boat launching facilities, and more for the communities to enjoy.

Topics: Insights, Transportation, Case Studies

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About the Author

Dan has more than 40 years of experience in transportation planning and engineering and general civil engineering.

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