After more than 18-months work, state transportation officials opened part of the new $15 million dollar Grand Lagoon Bridge Friday.
Once completed, the bridge project should improve both traffic flow over the bridge, and water flow under the bridge. The old bridge created back-ups, especially during emergencies or hurricane evacuations.
"That's one of the factors that went into the decision making process, and we looked at this area, because obviously it's a bottleneck area for us" says project spokeswoman Lynn Cherry.
Bay County officials have long-wanted to replace the old bridge, but never could get funding. Then in 2009, the Obama administration's "Economic Stimulus Package" came through with $15 million dollars for the shovel-ready project. By October 1st 2009, workers were breaking-ground on the new 5-lane bridge.
"That's just the way the mechanics work in transportation. It takes a while to forecast those needs, to get those dollars secure and then the construction to actually happen" adds Cherry.
The new bridge also answers an environmental need. Some environmentalists say the wider opening between the bridge ramps improves water circulation in Grand Lagoon, helping flush out sediments.
"It's been blocked up since 1952 when the causeway was put in. The widening, we believe, is going to help all the way around" says Ken Karr, President of the 'Friends of Grand Lagoon' non-profit group.
Drivers should expect some minor delays Friday. Authorities say they expect the entire bridge to open in July.