Looking Back: Ivan vs. the Interstate 10 Bridge

Sep 22, 2014

Credit fhwa.gov

In the next installment of our look back at Hurricane Ivan ten years ago, WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports on the Interstate-10 Bridge -- a major traffic artery that was severed and then built back even better.

The original four-lane bridge opened in 1968, consisting of twin spans of two lanes each with no shoulders. Connecting Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, it’s a vital link on an I-10 that reaches across the southern part of the United States from Jacksonville to Los Angeles.

Ian Satter with the Florida Department of Transportation was representing DOT at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, which was monitoring Ivan.

“Most people, when they think of hurricanes they think of the wind damage, and that’s not what we saw with Ivan” said Satter. “What we saw with Ivan was the surge of the storm and the storm water coming up from the seas. That’s what caused the damage in that area, versus the wind damage.”

The storm generated surge powerful enough to knock out a total of 58 spans in the eastbound and westbound bridges and misalign 66 others -- causing the bridge to be closed to traffic in both directions.

Iconic photographs of the bridge with an 18-wheeler dangling over one of the missing sections symbolized Ivan’s destruction. Divers found the body of truck driver Roberto Alvarado of Toppenish, Washington, where his cab fell into the bay.

The day after Ivan hit, Gov. Jeb Bush spoke with the media in Pensacola on his tour of the damaged area. He said some plans were being made to re-open at least one of the bridge’s four lanes, but added that it was still a work in progress.

“What has happened is that U.S. (Highway) 90 has been opened up for emergency support, which is very helpful,” Bush said. “Because logistically, we have a challenge of getting the support in. It’s had to come from the north and, I guess, from Alabama, so this will allow some support to come in. But it’s going to take a while to get I-10 fixed.”

Shortly afterward, Escambia County Administrator George Touart announced that help from the state was on the way.

“The FDOT has hired a contractor, for a $3 million contract, to get at least one lane of I-10 open within 30 days,” Touart said. “If they can accomplish that, then that is an unbelievable task for what I saw today.”

That “unbelievable task” was accomplished in what DOT’s Ian Satter calls “The 17-Day Wonder Bridge” which re-opened part of the span in early October -- nearly three weeks after Ivan.

Replacing the I-10 Bridge became one of the top priorities post-Ivan. The original bridge with temporary spans reopened in November 2004, with traffic reduced to one lane in each direction. Construction on a brand new, state-of-the-art bridge began in early 2006.

The new bridge is 25 ft. above the water at its crest. It features a total of six lanes – three eastbound and three westbound – along with wide shoulders, modern barrier walls and upgraded lighting. Total cost of the project was $245 million.

The westbound portion of the bridge opened in December 2007, with Gov. Charlie Crist presiding.

“It’s a new resource for emergency management personnel, as well as a major accomplishment by our Florida Department of Transportation,” said Crist. “We remember how far the community has come since Ivan, and it’s been dramatic.”

The Governor added that the bridge is not just a road, but a symbol of unity among the communities in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. During the ceremony, the spans were officially named for Project Manager David Bogan, who died from a brain tumor in February, 2007 at the age of 43.