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Sanibel Causeway reopens for residents and businesses, with a permanent fix still in the works

 An 11 a.m. opening of the "rebuilt" causeway that links the island and the mainland was announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the base of the first bridge segment. A convoy of local politicians and others crossed the causeway shortly after the governor's briefing Wednesday morning.
Braun, Michael
/
Special to WGCU
An 11 a.m. opening of the "rebuilt" causeway that links the island and the mainland was announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the base of the first bridge segment. A convoy of local politicians and others crossed the causeway shortly after the governor's briefing Wednesday morning.

Two days ahead of the expected finish date, repairs on the Sanibel Causeway, broken in multiple places three weeks ago by Hurricane Ian, are completed enough to allow residents and island businesses access.

Sanibel Island residents and those with businesses on the island were granted access Wednesday with the reopening of the causeway.

An 11 a.m. opening of the "rebuilt" causeway that links the island and the mainland was announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the base of the first bridge segment.

DeSantis noted the significant damage to the causeway caused by Ian which he described as more than what happened to the link between nearby Pine Island and the mainland at Matlacha Pass.

A damaged causeway to Sanibel Island on Sept. 30, 2022, near Sanibel Island, Fla.
Tom James for WGCU/NPR
A damaged causeway to Sanibel Island on Sept. 30, 2022, near Sanibel Island, Fla.

"At the end of the day, to make it work, you really need to get people over there on vehicles," DeSantis said. "We worked with FDOT to develop a plan and implement a plan, make the temporary repairs necessary to the Sanibel Causeway to get people back over there."

DeSantis said the plan as originally set in place for completion by the end of October was ambitious.

"I'm happy today, by opening it today, we are way ahead of schedule," he said.

The governor said more than 100 crews out in more than 36,000 work hours to repair the multiple points broken by Ian along the causeway. He said there were 70 pieces of heavy equipment, barges, dive teams and more that contributed to the temporary fixes allowing the bridge to reopen sooner.

He said work crews placed more than 8,200 loads of fill dirt, 2,400 loads of rock and more than 4,000 tons of asphalt in making the repairs.

 An 11 a.m. opening of the "rebuilt" causeway that links the island and the mainland was announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the base of the first bridge segment.
Braun, Michael
/
Special to WGCU
An 11 a.m. opening of the "rebuilt" causeway that links the island and the mainland was announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the base of the first bridge segment.

"These repairs, though temporary, are really going to help get the residents of this island back on track," DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who visited Sanibel on Tuesday, also alluded to significant progress on the island, especially in terms of power.

"Some of that stuff was really, really bad, and if we had not done that one-time (power and utility repair truck), we would not have made that progress," he said.

Permanent repairs to the causeway will be carried out, the governor said, with the help of Lee County and lauded the help of Florida Department of Transportation Jared W. Perdue for "cutting through the red tape."

"We understood that time is of the essence when you have real significant damage like that," DeSantis said. "You can't let it toil for months. We need to get it back as soon as possible."

The governor contrasted the causeway restoration to the work done in reconnecting the road through Matlacha to Pine Island as key to getting that island's power on the mend much earlier than thought.

"That was a real rapid restoration," he said. "But that would not haver been possible without the temporary repairs."

The governor said a similar type restoration was being conducted on Sanibel but with a lot of repairs still needing to be made on things like rebuilding the island substation and fixing transmission lines.

"Restoration is ongoing," he said. "Obviously, we want it to be as quick as possible, but there was significant damage."

Homes in Sanibel, Fla., were damaged by the hurricane. The island is home to about 6,500 people year-round.
Joe Raedle
/
Getty Images
Homes in Sanibel, Fla., were damaged by the hurricane. The island is home to about 6,500 people year-round.

The governor also said that likely 25 percent of those on Sanibel that can have power restored will have that connection made this week.

"Maybe as early as tomorrow," he said. "Obviously, the customers need to be restorable." Those that are not in that position will need to connect with an electrician first he said.

Because of Ian-produced damage to the north of the island on Upper Captiva and North Captiva, the power restoration might not be come until November due to the power grid, which is underground there, having to be completely rebuilt.

At the end of the governor's remarks, FDOT's Purdue said that operations at the causeway have been 24/7 for the past 15 days.

"Today marks 10 days ahead of our original planned schedule ... it truly is amazing," he said.

Purdue also mentioned temporary repairs made to other bridges on the south end of Fort Myers Beach, including the Big and Little Carlos Pass spans, Big Hickory Bridge and New Pass Bridge, allowed those passages to be opened to residents.

Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith said the reopening "will prove to be one of our days in history for Lee County and the city of Sanibel."

Smith cited the governor's commitment to having the repairs done quickly.

"On Oct. 4 Governor Ron DeSantis charged the Florida Department of Transportation with making temporary repairs to the causeway by the end of October," she said, lauding the work done since then on the causeway. "We will, within minutes, reconnect Sanibel to the shores of Lee County and expedite our recovery."

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WGCU Staff