A federal grant could help replace a deteriorating bridge that serves as a critical link for employees, tourists and spacecraft bound for Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The project is urgent because engineering studies show the 55-year-old State Road 405 bridge over the Indian River Lagoon may not be safe for heavy freight and spacecraft to cross as soon as 2021.
Space Florida has applied for a U.S. Department of Transportation grant that would enable construction of a new span to begin in 2021.
The “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” grant, or INFRA grant, also would support the widening of Space Commerce Way, a key corridor to the KSC Visitor Complex and Exploration Park, a growing space manufacturing hub.
Estimated total project cost: $165 million.
“It’s progressing quickly and time is of the essence,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello told board members Monday, the deadline to submit the grant application.
The application is the culmination of at least two years of talks between numerous local, state and federal agencies including NASA, which owns the twin drawbridges built in 1964.
If it is awarded, the INFRA grant would fund 60 percent of the project cost, or about $99 million. NASA and would contribute 20 percent, or about $33 million, including paying to remove the old bridge and move utility lines. Space Florida would pay the remaining 20 percent through unspecified financing.
NASA already is paying for bridge planning and design studies being managed by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The design has not been completed, but likely will be a “high-rise” causeway similar to others on the Space Coast. At a December public meeting in Titusville, FDOT presented several options estimated to cost between $119 million and $128 million. A choice will be made following a public hearing this fall.
Titusville-based Astrotech Space Operations relies on the bridge to move satellites to the Cape for launch, including for national security and interplanetary missions.
Built in 2001, Space Commerce Way is a mostly two-lane road that loops from State Road 3 on Merritt Island to State Road 405, also called the NASA Causeway.
In December, the KSC Visitor Complex, which hosts 1.5 million guests a year, opened a new entrance on the road to relieve NASA Causeway traffic, especially on high-profile launch days.
The road cuts through state-run Exploration Park, where Blue Origin has built a massive factory for New Glenn rockets and OneWeb Satellites aims to crank out small communications satellites. Last month, Firefly Aerospace announced plans to build Alpha and Beta rockets there.
The three companies together represent nearly 1,000 jobs, and a need to move heavy equipment back and forth from the mainland to manufacturing sites and launch facilities.
“I believe that this infrastructure if vital for the future of Space Florida,” said board member Jay Beyrouti. “We need access for the property that we mange.”
Space Florida said some members of the state’s federal delegation have signed a letter of support, and that U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott support its pursuit of the federal grant.
It was not clear when grant awards would be announced, or what backup plans exist if the state fails to win one.
Space Florida said the INFRA grant program is intended to back “projects that undertake nationally significant freight and highway improvements.”
The program’s second round will offer between $855 million and $902.5 million, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the 2018 budget year, 26 projects won a total of nearly $1.5 billion.