When Hurricane Ian made landfall in late September, it became the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935. The storm devastated Florida’s Lee County, causing significant damage to the Sanibel Causeway, the three-mile-long bridge which connects Sanibel Island to Florida.
In response, crews from Florida-based heavy civil contractor Superior Construction worked around the clock to rebuild the Sanibel Causeway. On Wednesday, October 19, they completed temporary repairs allowing the causeway to be reopened to residents more than a week ahead of schedule.
In a joint venture with The de Moya Group, Superior worked collaboratively with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) staff to restore this vital infrastructure link. Collectively, the team worked more than 36,000 workforce hours to bring residents back to Sanibel Island in just 15 days.
CSI interviewed Superior Division Manager Ryan Hamrick to see just what it took to complete the necessary repairs to rebuild the community so local businesses can thrive once more.
For those of us who don’t reside in Florida, what would you like to share about the impact of Hurricane Ian, and the widespread damage it caused?
Hurricane Ian had devastating impacts throughout the state of Florida. The widespread destruction specific to Southwest Florida was catastrophic. Having a firsthand view of the area within days of landfall gave us a healthy respect for the power of the storm surge this hurricane presented. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the storm and the long road of recovery in front of them.
What kind of preparations does Superior Construction make when a hurricane of this magnitude is forecast to hit your state, and how do you and your crews stay flexible enough to react to the ongoing changes and fluctuations in such a massive storm?
As Floridians and as contractors, we prepare for hurricane season every year, hoping it’s all for nothing. Unfortunately, there are years when that preparation and planning are proven critical. As we begin to anticipate a hurricane’s impact, Superior’s senior leadership meets daily for briefings to ensure our Hurricane Action Plans are being implemented. We take proactive measures on our project sites to secure the area and take care of anything our clients need. We do this early in order to give our employees time to take care of their families and properties. We also strategically prepare equipment, personnel, and resources in our regional areas to respond to any emergency work items our clients may have after the storm passes. Our focus shifts from the day-to-day demands on the projects, to helping our clients and the public restore roadways when needed.
Can you give us an overview of what it was like to assess, plan, and begin to repair the damage to the Sanibel Causeway?
We were able to assess the damage to Sanibel Causeway within 48 hours of the storm passing. We then spent nearly three days evaluating how to safely repair the causeway to restore traffic. Within a week, there were numerous crews and pieces of equipment throughout the site starting the process of restoring the causeway. This was a very fast-paced and detailed collaboration with FDOT, and our internal team was vital to the safety of the workers and the schedule in which the work was completed.
What does it take to keep more than a hundred crews, 70 pieces of heavy equipment, barges, boats, and cranes working for 36,000 workforce hours?
It takes focus and leadership from the top down. FDOT took the lead by having decision-makers on site from day one. They pulled resources from across the state and provided us direction without delay. Our Joint Venture construction team had executive-level leadership present on-site throughout the emergency repairs. Everyone involved had the same goal in mind—to repair and re-open the causeway to traffic as soon as possible. It was a complete team effort.
Are there any specific stories or anecdotes about this job—or working to help the residents of Sanibel Island return to their homes—that you would like to share?
This was a perfect example of a coordinated and successful emergency response. FDOT and the construction industry responded to this challenge with an all-hands-on-deck approach. FDOT supported every aspect of the construction team, and every team member was dedicated to our collective goal of safely reconnecting residents to Sanibel Island. We are all proud of the fact that the entire team (FDOT, construction teams, designers, consultants, and emergency responders) worked together to make this happen in an unprecedented timeframe. Without this complete support, which came at all levels all the way up to the Governor’s office, this does not happen.
As a fourth-generation family-owned business, your teams have seen a lot of big storms, and a lot of big restoration projects. What does that legacy mean to you and your colleagues, and how does it inform the level of commitment to the work they do?
We want our legacy to center on the positive impact we have on the communities in which we live and work. We aren’t here just to work in these areas, but to improve life for these communities and their residents. Life brings us storms sometimes. As these storms come, we want to help our neighbors in times of need. We want to be good stewards of all we have been given. Whether that is restoring a road destroyed by a hurricane or making their travel day a little less stressful, we want to do our part to make their lives a little better each day, especially in times of need.