Bridge meeting Thursday
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The Florida Department of Transportation’s time-frame for its $9.14 million renovation of the Anna Maria Island Bridge has changed a long way in a short time.
Just last October, the DOT said it planned to close the bridge on Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 in early April for 75 days as part of the project, forcing Islanders and visitors alike to detour to the Cortez Bridge — through Bradenton Beach.
That news was greeted by Island elected officials, residents and business operators with less enthusiasm than for a broken sewer line.
Following the ensuing public outcry, the DOT backed off on its original plans with contractor Quinn Construction Company of Palmetto and negotiated a new contract with the company that calls for a Feb. 4 start date, a 45-day closure beginning Sept. 29 and a monetary incentive program to “encourage” Quinn to complete the work during the closure earlier than planned.
The DOT is hosting a public meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach, to discuss the details of the new contract and take more public input.
Of particular concern to business proprietors at the October meeting was what happens if the bridge closure extends beyond 45 days and encroaches on the always busy Thanksgiving holiday week or even longer through Christmas and into the new year.
DOT-Bartow director of operations Deborah Hunt has previously indicated that the DOT might reopen the bridge for those critical holidays, but made no promises.
And delays are always expected, said Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford, who noted that the first delay has already occurred — the project was first slated to begin Jan. 7, not the first week of February.
“We haven’t even started and we’ve already had our first delay,” she observed.
Barford is particularly concerned about the health and safety of Anna Maria residents during the bridge closure should an emergency arise.
Time and distance studies prepared by the West Manatee Fire & Rescue District indicate the detour to the Cortez Bridge during the closure period will add a minimum of eight minutes to the time it takes an ambulance or fire truck from the WMFR station on 67th Street West in Bradenton to reach the north end of Anna Maria for a total time of 23 minutes.
As a precaution, Manatee County Emergency Management Services plan to place either a second ambulance or another paramedic at the WMFR station in Holmes Beach, but there are no extra fire trucks, WMFR Chief Andy Price said.
And, noted Price, that 23-minute travel time using the detour route is calculated with minimal traffic interference.
“With normal traffic, we estimate 26 minutes to Anna Maria. If there’s heavy traffic, the study says 35 minutes,” Price said.
“We’re just worried what traffic will be like on the Island during this period. It may be worse than we anticipate, but we have to plan for the worst case,” he said.
That “worst case” scenario includes how fire trucks and ambulances will operate to and from the Island if the bridge is still closed during the holidays and winter tourist season.
“I hope we are wrong and traffic doesn’t get that bad, but it’s our business to plan for the worst.”
Price and Barford, along with other concerned Islanders, will be able to express their misgivings at the Jan. 17 meeting.
Following a power-point presentation, the DOT will hold a question-and-answer session. Along with DOT representatives, project personnel from Quinn will be on hand after the presentation to discuss specifics and answer further questions about the potential impact the bridge project and closure may have on Islanders and the three Island cities.
The renovation project is a stop-gap measure designed to extend the life of the bridge another 10-15 years while the DOT begins planning and eventual construction of a replacement bridge, Hunt said.
At the earliest, said Hunt, even with immediate funding and no legal roadblocks, it would take seven years to get a new bridge built and operational. A more realistic timeline would be 12-14 years.
Hunt said the DOT has formed a team that will initiate the feasibility study required for a new bridge. The estimated cost of a new bridge, in today’s prices, was put at around $30-$40 million.
A mid-1990s effort by the DOT to build a new Anna Maria Island Bridge failed for a variety of reasons, including a dispute between the DOT and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection regarding the environmental impact the bridge would have on Sarasota Bay and a lawsuit brought by some Islanders and the environmental group known as Save Anna Maria Inc. based on those impacts.