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Date of Issue: March 25, 2009

DOT reaffirms: No recommendation - yet - on AMI Bridge

3-25-09/amib-renderings.jpg
Florida Department of Transportation computer-generated photos of the various options for a new bridge depict how a low, mid- and high-rise bridge would look against the present Anna Maria Island Bridge in the background. This and other plans will be shown at a public hearing in Holmes Beach March 26.

Islanders are invited to attend the Florida Department of Transportation’s March 26 public hearing on its proposals for the future of the Anna Maria Island Bridge, but they won’t be getting any recommendation from the DOT.

Chris Piazza of the DOT said the public hearing is only to take input from the public, not to present any DOT recommendation on what type of structure — if any — should replace the recently repaired bridge.

“This is the last opportunity for the public to make comments for the record,” he said.

Those comments will be reviewed by the DOT as it prepares to make its recommendation to the U.S. Coast Guard — the final authority on any replacement bridge.

Before the DOT announces its recommendation, however, Piazza said it still has to present the results of its project development and environmental study to the Manatee County Commission, the Island Transportation and Planning Organization and the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Piazza said he anticipates those presentation efforts will be completed by June. The DOT also will listen and review comments provided by the various governmental bodies for inclusion in its recommendation.

The DOT will announce its preferred option at the same time it gives its choice to the Coast Guard, Piazza said. That could come as early as this summer, according to the DOT schedule.

Bridge styles

The DOT is providing the public with four choices for the future of the AMI Bridge, including a “no-build” option:

• A 21.5-foot-high bascule that will be similar in style to the current bridge and will clear the same number of boats.

• A 45-foot-high bascule that will clear 38 percent of boat traffic without the bascule being raised.

• A 65-foot-high, fixed-span structure that will allow 99 percent of all boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway to pass under its height.

• A no-build option that will keep the current AMI Bridge intact for an estimated 10-15 years before it would have to undergo another major rehabilitation effort.

All the options are for a two-lane roadway with one or two sidewalks.

A DOT survey conducted in December found 77 percent of respondents favored a replacement bridge, with 70 percent of those favoring a high-level fixed bridge. That was down from the DOT’s 2007 survey when 81 percent of respondents favored a fixed-span, high-rise structure.

Not so soon

Whether for or against a new bridge, Islanders should not expect that any groundbreaking ceremony is just around the corner.

Even if the DOT recommends a replacement bridge, there is no funding in the DOT’s current five-year work program or any future budget plan for any design, right-of-way acquisition or construction.

Piazza has said that if a replacement bridge is the preferred option, it would take the DOT a minimum of eight to 10 years before any funding is in place for construction to begin. And that estimate is only if a replacement bridge is put on the “fast track,” Piazza said. A more reasonable estimate would be 12 to 15 years, DOT officials have indicated.

PD&E study

In the PD&E study, the DOT will present a 189-page environmental assessment on the impact each bridge option would have on the local environment.

If a new bridge is built, some loss of fish and wildlife habitat will occur along with a loss of seagrass beds.

The assessment noted that a north alignment for a new bridge would result in the least amount of harm to the seagrass beds in the area.

The DOT also said that land acquisition would be necessary, regardless of whether the alignment from the current bridge is north or south. Some of the required property for a north alignment is at the Seven Shores condominium project, owned by the St. Joe Co. The south alignment would require acquisition of some lands in the Neal Preserve.

Another area studied was stormwater runoff. The DOT indicated that several retention ponds would have to be constructed near the approaches of any new bridge — and for a higher bridge, more water retention is required.

The DOT made no recommendation on any recreational fishing activities for a new bridge and said the current bridge would be torn down once a new bridge is operational.

The PD&E study is available for review online at www.annamariaislandbridge.com, at the Island Branch Library on Marina Drive, or at the Central Library at 1301 Baracotta Blvd. W., Bradenton.

The March 26 meeting will begin at 6 p.m. with an informal session, followed by the public hearing at 7 p.m., Piazza said. During the first hour, the public can view the plans and visit scribes to provide input for the record.

Comments can also be made by calling Piazza at 863-519-2293, or visiting online at www.annamariaislandbridge.com.

All comments must be received by March 26 to become part of the official record.

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