How Digital Innovation Helped Rebuild Sanibel Causeway

1 February 2023Collaboration, Construction, Digital TransformationCollaboration, communication, revit, Worksharing



When Hurricane Ian roared through Florida in September 2021, the storm surge severely damaged a three-mile section of Sanibel Causeway, the highway portion of the bridge system that connects Sanibel Island to Fort Myers on the Florida mainland. This left the 6,500 residents of 12-mile-long Sanibel essentially stranded off the island or, for those who didn’t evacuate, on the island without fresh food, water and fuel. Thus, a project to repair the Causeway kicked into high gear. In addition, plans were drawn up to make it more resilient to future storms.

bluegreen water with an island in the background

The result was an advanced design-build project to rebuild two sections of highway, five approach slabs, and rebuilding the connecting causeway islands. With teams working around the clock with technology in a disaster situation, the repair project only took an astonishing 15 days to get the Causeway back in working condition.

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satellite image of hurricane over Florida

The first challenge Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) and the rest of the construction and paving teams faced was access to the damaged sections of bridge and roadway, relying at first on viewing the potential project by boat.

The first challenge Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) and the rest of the construction and paving teams faced was access to the damaged sections of bridge and roadway, relying at first on viewing the potential project by boat.

Debris had to be cleared. Rip-rap and fill had to be hauled in from across the State to reestablish the walls that washed out. According to an October 2022 report in ConstructionDive, teams had to be fed and housed onsite because Sanibel businesses were not able to supply the needs.  

The other challenges the teams faced and the innovations to solve them included:

  • Communication – Cell service was iffy in the project area, so a Starlink satellite connection was established to provide cell service and internet connectivity. The teams related that open communications and frequent meetings throughout the project were important to keep construction and paving workers, emergency responders, support teams, and everyone else coordinated and on the same page. In an online article, quoted the division manager of project contractor Superior Construction, “It was truly a collaborative effort across the entire team.”
  • Power – Since power had been knocked out, the entire repair job had to be conducted using generator energy.
  • Surveying – Hydrography (underwater surveying) was conducted by dive teams so the physical features in the damaged coastal area around the causeway and the connecting islands could be visualized.
  • Surveillance – Drones were used as often as possible to view the lengthy project site from overhead, providing what was referred to by one of the contractors as the “10,000-foot view.”
  • Progress tracking – Using contractor and DOT drones, progress could be tracked and dredge/fill quantities could be checked. With DOT leading the effort, ConstructionDive reported that everyone working on the project had an “all hands on deck” mentality. Considering the repair project involved 36,000 combined workforce hours, the collaborative effort was significant.

After the emergency repair of the Causeway, access to Sanibel remained limited. As reported by the Fort Myers News-Press, final construction phases, including long-term repairs for permanent, unlimited access and establishing resilience, were still in progress as of January 2023.



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