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Date of Issue: November 08, 2007

Call it Bridge 101: new bridge process a lengthy one

Want a new Anna Maria Island Bridge? Take a number.

Mike Howe, executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, explains the process of replacing spans like the one linking Holmes Beach to Perico Island.

Via federal, state, regional and local authorities, it’s not a speedy process.

First up, Howe says, is the authorization of funding for a project development and environmental study in the case of the Island’s bridge. Cost of such a study could be as much as $3 million, and must be included in the Florida Department of Transportation’s five-year work plan. That work plan will come before the MPO in December - for the first time - making any new bridge a skeptical proposition until at least 2014 - and that’s just for the planning phase.

The Anna Maria Island Bridge has something of a “piling up” on other structures in that massive studies were conducted about 10 years ago when the much maligned 65-foot center-clearance fixed-span bridge was first proposed to replace the existing bridge. Howe estimated that much of that data could be used for the PD&E study, and suggested that the DOT could do much of the analysis in-house.

Once the PD&E is in the DOT process, any bridge work needs federal and state approval regarding funding. The money for the bridge does not come out of the regular MPO funds, but from various agencies.

The current bridge repairs, by the way, are not part of the MPO process or funding, but instead come from a separate maintenance category within the DOT budget.

Once the PD&E is approved, the public gets involved in the process. Traditionally, there are a slew of options for a new bridge: the “no-build” scenario, the “same-same” scheme, then higher and higher bridges, with different configurations regarding drawbridges and fixed-span structures. If history holds true, there will even be a tunnel option.

Once that public process is concluded, DOT officials will hunker down and produce a product, and attempt to gain federal and state funding for it.

Oh, and then there are the inevitable challenges to the bridge by citizens, as well as the required permits from various agencies. Involved in the process will be the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Manatee County, Bradenton and Holmes Beach, to name just a few.

Howe said that estimates of $75 million for any new bridge construction were based on a similar new bridge built across Sarasota Bay in Sarasota, the Ringling Bridge, which, by the way, opened in 2003 at a cost of $68 million.

But he added that during any PD&E process, it would be important for bridge travelers to be vigilant regarding the design. If a new bridge is indeed sought by Islanders, he advised to “really, really demand high quality.”

Sarasota did. Opponents there of a bland design held firm and saw positive results.

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