Chamber: 'Be positive' during bridge closure
|No through traffic|
This Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy was on duty Monday, Sept. 28, at the Manatee Avenue-75th Street intersection to assist traffic diverting onto the detour route to Anna Maria Island. Some visitors to the Island, however, have said the detour signs indicating the direction motorists should take to reach the Island are unclear. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
While traffic to and from the mainland has to use the Cortez Bridge for the next five weeks, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said it’s time to put the past behind and let people know that the Island is here, with beautiful beaches and lots of shops and restaurants.
Like it or not, the Anna Maria Island Bridge is now closed until Nov. 13 as contractors complete the Florida Department of Transportation’s $10.2 million rehabilitation project.
“We need to be positive. We’ve had too much negative publicity about the closure. There’s every reason for people to come and visit us. It’s still not in the season and traffic flow has been perfect,” Brockman said.
Brockman noted that she’s hasn’t had any negative reports from members about a lack of business, but added “it’s still early” in the closure period.
As contractors are working to ensure the bridge is ready by Nov. 13, law enforcement officers were working the first week of closure to ensure traffic at four intersections and on Gulf Drive flowed smoothly.
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale stationed additional officers at the Cortez Road-Gulf Drive intersection for traffic control.
“The officers said they’ve only seen a slight increase in traffic during peak hours. The flow has been lighter than expected. It’s going good,” Speciale said.
Staff at Anna Maria City Hall, who have one of the longest detours from Bradenton, said that the extra distance added about 15 minutes to their drive time to work.
“It’s been going well for us,” said city clerk Alice Baird. “Of course, we come to work by 8 a.m. and there’s not too much traffic then. Still, I haven’t seen any problems and the police are there to handle any situation.”
The DOT is funding the cost of the additional officers for Bradenton Beach and also in Holmes Beach, where Chief Jay Romine has traffic control officers at the Manatee Avenue-East Bay Drive intersection advising motorists of the bridge closure.
“Traffic has been very smooth,” Romine said. “We haven’t seen any problems at all.”
That’s good news for Island business owners, who were anticipating the return of some winter visitors this month.
And all indications are that they will be returning.
Tom Buehler at Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach said advance reservations for October are ahead of last year’s pace, and he’s not concerned about the bridge affecting his business.
“The visitors are going to come to the Island and stay here. They’re not looking to go on and off the Island every day. I think we’re going to have a great month of October and for the entire season,” he said.
For the latest information on the rehabilitation project, go on the Web to www.islander.org and click on “Island links.” People without Internet access can call 941-792-0369.
Detour to Paradise
During the closure period, Islanders are being urged by Island businesses, TheIslander newspaper and local chambers of commerce to stay on the Island and “shop local.”
The Islander newspaper is listing weekly a number of activities for Islanders under its “Detour to Paradise” program.
A large number of activities are planned throughout the Island during the closure period.
DOT cautions against sight-seeing at AMIB
The Florida Department of Transportation is asking people to avoid sight-seeing and photos at the construction zone during the next five weeks of rehab work on the Anna Maria Island Bridge.
DOT spokesperson Audrey Clarke said that because of safety issues, the DOT was asking residents, visitors, bicyclists, business owners and others against approaching too close to the bridge.
“There is a lot of activity at the bridge construction site,” noted Clarke, and the DOT understands that people are interested in the project, but safety is paramount for everyone involved.
“Please, work with us as we make every effort to complete the work within 45 days or less,” she said.
For the first week of closure, Clarke said the construction proceeded on schedule, with no delays.
“So far, everything is going according to plan” and the reopening date is still planned for Nov. 13, she said.
DOT sign unclear?
Ken Gerry of the White Sands Resort in Holmes Beach said a number of guests have complained that the Florida Department of Transportation detour sign at the Manatee Avenue-75th Street intersection is “unclear” to motorists, particularly for those visiting the Island for the first time.
“They are telling me that the sign doesn’t really tell them where to go after they turn left onto 75th Street. It doesn’t say they have to drive south to Cortez Road and turn right,” said Gerry.
He said when his guests went to the DOT Web site for the bridge repairs, the map also was confusing.
“I tell our incoming guests over the phone that they have to drive down 75th Street and turn right and come to the Island on the Cortez Bridge. I think the detour sign could make it clear how people get to the Island. Not everyone knows the way,” Gerry said.
But Gerry was pleased that visitors are coming.
“It’s looking very good for October. Our guests don’t plan to leave the Island once they get here,” he said.
DOT spokesperson Audrey Clarke had not responded by press deadline.