New Sanibel Causeway Anticipated To Be Finished This Year

by SC Reporter Wendy McMullen

Roadway work on the redesigned Sanibel Causeway is expected to be complete by the end of this year, project liaison for the Florida Department of Transportation Jennifer Dorning told Sanibel City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

Work is continuing day and night to complete the project.

“We actually have the materials on site to start doing this on the fly during storm season,” comments Dorning.

Buried iron sheet pile will protect the new roadway

Workers are currently installing slabs of buried iron sheet pile to create a wall which will raise the new roadway by 2 feet. This design protects the sheet pile wall with buried baskets of rock which the FDOT calls “mattresses.” Buried stainless steel Gabion baskets serve to protect for toe protection of the upper walls. Armor stones weighing 3,000 pounds are being delivered at the rate of one a day to help reinforce the new roadway.

FDOT is currently waiting for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue to the in water stage of the project. This permit is vital because 80 percent of the sheet pile to reinforce the causeway will go underwater.

The in-water stage will involve raising the seawall elevation to 8 feet, reinforcing the toe of the seawall and installing additional rip rap protection.Larger and heavier protection will be installed between the seawall and the bridge abutments.

As well as building the roadway, FDOT’s conceptual plan restores drainage, lighting and pavement markings and access for utility service along the causeway islands. It is also designed to help protect the natural environment from eroding shorelines and provide safe recreational areas for residents and visitors to enjoy the beaches.

Once the new roadway is completed, traffic will be diverted from the temporary structure being used currently to the new structure. This will be achieved in a series of small diversions involving only one lane open during night hours reverting back to two lanes in daylight hours.

The next stage is to restore the causeway islands recreational beaches. Native plantings such as mangroves will be used for natural hardening of the bridge structure.

Lee County, which owns the causeway, will coordinate park facilities. The county commission has committed to keep parking on the causeway beaches free and is consulting with agencies such as the Naples Botanical Gardens on landscaping and beautification.

Twelve feet of storm waters surged across the causeway on Sept. 28 last year, washing away the causeway islands, which supported the road, and breaching it at the point where it approaches the bridge. No traffic, emergency or otherwise, was able to reach the island by road. Islanders and emergency vehicles alike were delivered by boat.

A convoy of trucks moved on to the island to shore up the Sanibel Causeway as soon as the bridge was repaired.

Beginning Oct. 5, 2022, FDOT mobilized and after only six days, the project team was able to expedite repairs and lead a convoy of utility restoration teams and equipment across the Sanibel Causeway

“This will be one for the for the record books, one for everybody to be able to look at this project emergency repair, to see all the amazing accomplishments,” commented Dorning, lauding the FDOT’s rapid response, adding their project management team were living without water or electricity in Punta Rassa in order to be close to the site.

Just three weeks after Hurricane Ian destroyed the Sanibel Causeway the bridge was open to first responders, utility crews, contractors and residents and has remained open even as crews continue work on the additional armoring of the temporary repairs.

“Hurricane Ian changed the landscape of the Sanibel Causeway simply because the storm shifted sands from the islands,” Dorning told City Council. “While we are looking to reconstruct a more resilient design, the goal of the project is to return the causeway to the pre-storm condition to the maximum extent possible.”

The 20 mph speed limit on the causeway will remain in force for the safety of everyone, in particular the emergency workers who are making repairs at night.

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