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Sanibel Causeway opened at 11 a.m. for residents, businesses; permanent fix still in the works

SANIBEL TRAFFIC A.jpg
Rendy Ramos
/
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. A short time later traffic began entering the island.

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

At 11 a.m. the first cars started crossing the "rebuilt" causeway that links the island and the mainland about two hours after the opening 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 put 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.

DeSantis briefing.JPG
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 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. "While the bridges were largely undamaged by the storm, portions of the causeway which connect bridge structures together were washed away by Hurricane Ian, leaving the bridges unconnected to the mainland or the island. A project like this, under normal circumstances, could take months. However, FDOT, along with our law enforcement partners at the Florida Highway Patrol, Lee County and Florida Department of Emergency Management made use of strategic and innovative techniques to rebuild the causeways quickly.

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 TRAFFIC B.jpg
Rendy Ramos
/
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. A short time later traffic began entering the island.

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."

Lee County Wednesday also rescinded its curfew for Pine Island, leaving Captiva Island under the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew until further notice.

The county kept the Captiva curfew to ensure continuity between Captiva and neighbor, the City of Sanibel, which has the same curfew hours in place.

RULES FOR ACCESS
Rules set in place fort access to Sanibel Island after Wednesday's reopening include:

  • Resident, business owner, property owner, private contractor access will be Wednesday through Sunday of each week
  • Inbound access between 8:00am – 5:00pm
  • Two Inbound Lanes
  • Right Lane – Emergency Vehicles & Emergency Government Contractors Only
  • Left Lane - Sanibel residents, businesses, property owners and private contractors.
  • A VALID 2021 OR 2022 SANIBEL RE-ENTRY PERMIT MUST BE PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED WHEN APPROACHING THE CHECKPOINT
  • A curfew is in effect between 9 p.m. – 6 a.m. No vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian movement is permitted, except for essential response personnel

Detailed maps for checkpoints and traffic patterns to access Sanibel via the causeway and bridge available here.

What to expect on Sanibel:

  • Law enforcement presence
  • Large construction vehicles traveling throughout island
  • LCEC bucket trucks restoring power poles and powerlines
  • 20 mph speed limit
  • Traffic congestion throughout Sanibel
  • Slow speeds through areas where essential personnel are working
  • Yield to emergency crews
  • Debris throughout the island
  • Bicyclists, low speed vehicles, and pedestrians in roadway
  • No food services
  • No gasoline stations
  • Displaced wildlife
  • Curfew 9 p.m. – 6 a.m.

The City of Sanibel asks residents, property owners, businesses, and private contractors to strictly adhere to the established reentry procedures, including reentry passes, inbound traffic patterns, and all traffic laws, and to obey all law enforcement directives.

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