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Date of Issue: November 08, 2007

Bridge contractor says 'can do'

Anna Maria Island elected officials and business representatives heard the words they wanted to hear Nov. 1 when they met with representatives of Quinn Construction Co., the firm awarded the $9.1 million Anna Maria Island Bridge renovation project, and Florida Department of Transportation officials from Bartow.

Quinn Construction Co. owner Thomas Quinn of Palmetto believes his company can finish what it needs to do while the bridge is closed in 45 days or less, and that’s welcome news to Island businesses and residents.

Even better news is that the company has agreed to work out a new contract with the DOT that would move the original closing time from April to October. Island elected officials, business owners and the general public are adamantly opposed to closing the bridge for 75 days starting in April as previously announced by the DOT.

It looks like that’s not going to happen.

“Our intention is to help you guys out,” said Suzanne Quinn, co-owner of Quinn Construction.

Forty-five days is a lot less than 75 days, and Thomas Quinn believes he might complete what’s needed during the closure period in even less time. The entire project is projected to take 400 days.

At a public meeting Oct. 29, Debbie Hunt of the DOT’s Bartow office announced three “options” (see separate story) that would eliminate the planned 75-day closure and alter the closing time. The public was asked to e-mail their choice of options.

As of Nov. 2, said Hunt, the overwhelming response has been to close the bridge completely for 45 days beginning Oct. 1, 2008, rather than a 105-day closure period that would see the bridge reduced to one lane of traffic and fully closed for 15 days.

Hunt said she would present the majority option at the Manatee County Commission meeting Nov. 6. If the commission agreed with that option — most likely the 45-day closure plan — the DOT would then begin the laborious task of re-writing all its contracts on the project, including sub-contractors.

“We will have a lot of work ahead of us in the next few months. Once we decide on the scenario, we’ll pull everything together,” said Hunt.

Changing a $9 million contract at this late date is “outside the normal way,” she added, “but it’s the right thing to do.”

The DOT will offer Quinn an incentive of $10,000 per day for each day prior to reaching the end of the 45-day closure that the company can complete that portion of the work.

Thomas Quinn, however, said that the “bonus” was not the reason to change the contract, but he wanted to help the community.

Among other measures available, he believes he can meet the 45-day time frame by utilizing a portable hydraulic system that can raise and lower the bridge even though the bridge’s electrical system is inoperative.

Ed Chiles, who owns two restaurants on Anna Maria Island and one on Longboat Key, was hopeful that Quinn could guarantee a 24/7 operation, but that was a guarantee Quinn couldn’t make. He did say he would schedule work “on top of each other” to move the project along as rapidly as possible.

And he’s doing all this with only a handshake agreement with the DOT at present, noted Hunt.

Quinn has been “great to work with,” said Hunt.

“They had done all this on just a handshake and have said they can work with any of the three scenarios,” she said, noting the Quinns could just hold firm with the current contract.

Chiles said he and other Island businesses stood ready to do what they could to help the Quinns speed up the project.

“You tell us what you need to save days and we’ll do it,” said Chiles, who favors the 45-day closure option.

The Quinns said lowering the speed limit on the bridge to 25 mph during the entire project would help with the safety of work crews and motorists. The bridge is considered part of Manatee County and the state highway system, not Holmes Beach.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, along with Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, also agreed on the 45-day closure option. Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said she had no particular favorite, her only concern was for the safety of her residents. West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price and emergency medical service representatives also favor the 45-day closure.

And Quinn Construction has the experience to meet that deadline.

Thomas Quinn said his firm has been in business for more than 30 years and has done several DOT bridge projects, including one on Longboat Key several years ago. His company also worked on the rebuilt Sunshine Skyway Bridge when it was under construction.

Quinn said he did two jobs on the east coast a few years ago. One contract called for a 60-day completion time, while the other was for 90 days. Quinn said he completed one job 10 days early and the second 60 days ahead of schedule.

While any bridge job is a “challenge,” Thomas Quinn expressed confidence his firm was up to the task, even if the choice was to close the bridge for 45 days.

Chappie, while endorsing the 45-day option, thought spending $9.1 million on an antiquated bridge was a waste of money.

In fact, the most favored option from respondents at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce to the three scenarios was not to renovate the bridge, but to build a new one.

“Why not just fast track a new bridge,” said Chappie, a sentiment echoed by Chiles.

Hunt said the DOT has already started on a new bridge project, but that’s going to take several years. The bridge must be repaired to make it safe enough to last until a new bridge is operational and that will take a minimum of five to seven years and probably more, she observed.

To the DOT, five to seven years is the “fast track” for a new bridge, she said.

“If we could build it in three years, we would,” she added, but that’s not possible. “We all want a new bridge.”

Chiles thanked the Quinns and the DOT for arranging a meeting on such short notice, and he’s hopeful the final choice will be to close the bridge for 45 days starting Oct. 1, 2008.

“That will have the least amount of impact on all of us,” he said. Regardless of the final choice, the bridge won’t be closing in April and that’s good new for Chiles and the Island business community.

“Now, let’s all work together to get this thing completed in less than 45 days,” enthused Chiles.

Some bridge closure a must

While Island elected officials and business people might be satisfied with closing the Anna Maria Island Bridge for the bridge renovation project for 45 days starting Oct. 1, the preliminary work is slated to begin this January, said Debbie Hunt.

And there’s no way of getting around a few bridge closures this February, she added.

The bridge will have to be closed three times that month for a three-to-four-hour period each time.

If possible, said contractor Thomas Quinn, he’ll schedule the closings for the evening, but he can’t guarantee that will be the case.

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