SANTA ROSA BEACH — After about three years of construction, the U.S. Highway 331 bridge, a major artery crossing Choctawhatchee Bay, is finally complete.

Skanska USA broke ground in December 2013 and announced the completion of the new 12,000-foot two-lane span on Thursday. In addition to the bridge, the company built a 400-foot fishing pier, boat ramps, docks and a public park with a panoramic view of the bay.

“From a travel standpoint, it  will be beneficial for our locals, for our visitors and certainly for our hurricane evacuation route,” Walton County spokesman Louis Svehla said. “We also continue to look forward to the completion of the ( U.S. 331) widening project. That’s going to be fantastic ... so once the road is open in addition to the bridge, it’s going to be much better for anyone who is doing anything in Walton County.” 

The $118.5 million project for the Florida Department of Transportation consisted of designing and building the two-lane northbound bridge. The original Clyde B. Wells Bridge now handles southbound traffic only.

The scope of work also required fender system replacement as well as associated road work. Additionally, the team had limited periods of time to drive pilings because of fish windows, which are moratoriums set on pile driving to protect marine life and endangered species in the bay. Noise levels during pile driving were monitored to help protect nearby marine life.

“Our Skanska team worked with the utmost care to rebuild the US 331 bridge over Choctawhatchee Bay while taking the necessary measures to protect the marine life underneath the bridge structure,” said Jim Goyer, vice president of Florida operations for Skanska. “The reconstruction of the bridge expands the number of north and southbound lanes, providing better access, improving mobility and creating a safer driving experience for the local community.”

Businesses people along U.S. 331 hope the bridge’s completion will help them.

“It’s great. It’s going to be able to bring more people into town and the traffic is not going to be as terrible,” said Cameron Williams, a concierge services representative with Sandcastle Escapes, located near the foot of the bridge. “It will bring more eyes and more money to the economy here in South Walton.”

Brian McCollum, owner of Super Cool Pools on the north side of the bridge, hopes it will have a lasting effect.

“I think the major impact for the bridge will be in five or 10 years' time, when all the development which is likely to happen up in Freeport starts happening,” McCollum said. “I can imagine that other developers are going to be developing other large projects in the Freeport area.”

Ian Satter, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said the bridge’s completion is a significant improvement for the area’s infrastructure.

“First and foremost, the completion of the bridge was due to a partnership between Walton County citizens and the Florida Department of Transportation,” Satter said. “There was a need for this bridge to be widened, to improve safety and to reduce congestion along U.S. Highway 331. It’s a major hurricane evacuation route and it’s part of a bigger plan as we expand U.S. Highway 331 all the way from U.S. Highway 98 to Interstate 10.”    

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