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Date of Issue: December 24, 2008

Options abound for new AMI bridge

/12-24-08/amib-meet-RC655.jpg
Chris Piazza of the Florida Department of Transportation explains a bridge option to Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens at the DOT's Dec. 16 public meeting at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
/12-24-08/amib-plan-875.jpg
A Florida Department of Transportation rendering of several options for a new bridge presented at a public meeting Dec. 16. The above is a computer-generated photo of how a low, middle and high-rise bridge would look if built.

The Florida Department of Transportation gave Islanders a plethora of choices for replacement of the Anna Maria Island Bridge at its Dec. 16 public meeting at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, including a  “no build” option that would keep the current bridge operating for another 10 years.

Other choices included both north and south alignments for a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge, a 45-foot-clearance bascule and a 21.5-foot-clearance drawbridge.

Another alternative is to rehabilitate the bridge again at some point in the future. Chris Piazza of the DOT said this option could “extend the service life of the bridge by approximately 25 years.”

If a replacement bridge is the final choice, Piazza said the new bridge would be built alongside the current structure, allowing traffic to flow to and from the Island unimpeded during construction. However, once any new bridge is operational, the old bridge would be torn down, he said.

“There are no plans to retain any of the current structure for recreational purposes” if a new bridge is the final choice, he said.

The DOT discarded building a tunnel as an option, citing the estimated $375 million-$575 million cost, plus the environmental concerns. Likewise, the DOT said adding a “new corridor” to the Island was not an option because of a variety of issues, particularly land acquisition costs and the environment.

Piazza said 99 percent of all boat traffic would be able to traverse a 65-foot-clearance structure, while 38 percent could pass under a 45-foot-clearance drawbridge without opening the bascule. A 21.5-foot-high bridge would essentially have the same bridge-raising requirements for boats as the current structure, he said.

The estimated 125 people who attended the meeting were asked to provide written comments on their preferences, and opinions were as varied as the options.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said he favors a new bridge, and is unconcerned about its height. “As long as we get one with two sidewalks, I’m fine. I’m going to go along with what the people want,” he said.

The last DOT survey showed 80 percent of respondents favored a fixed-span bridge, he said.

The DOT did not present any cost estimates on the options, but Piazza said it's likely that the high-rise option would be the least costly to operate.

Some people expressed concern that strong winds at the top of a high-rise structure could interfere with motorists, creating a safety hazard. Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, however, presented information from wind expert Dr. Robert Sheets that a high-rise bridge was the preferred structure.

The high-rise option is the choice of Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens because traffic will flow across the bridge without interruption from a bascule going up.

Others, such as Billie Martini of the Save Anna Maria Inc. organization, said her group would prefer to retain the current bridge as long as possible.

“We favor the rehabilitation plan that would extend the life of the bridge another 25 years,” Martini said. “Put as much work into the old bridge as possible.”

SAM was instrumental in defeating a DOT proposal in the mid-1990s for a fixed-span, high-rise bridge as a replacement. That DOT project was presented to the public as a done deal, a decision made without any input.

This time around, the DOT is taking all public input before making any recommendation.

“We want to see what the people favor before concluding our report,” said Piazza.

The conclusions of the DOT Project Development and Environment Study for a replacement bridge should be ready by March. The DOT will then hold a public hearing on the Island to present that study and its recommendations. The U.S. Coast Guard has the final approval on any DOT recommendation.

People wishing to state a preference for a bridge option or make any comment have until Dec. 31.

Comments can be made online at www.annamariaislandbridge.com, or mailed to Piazza at the DOT, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow FL, 33831.

“We will bring back the best option,” Piazza pledged.

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