Island Bridge renovation ready for February start
The start of the $9.14 million renovation of the Anna Maria Island Bridge has been delayed until Feb. 4, a month later than the Florida Department of Transportation had originally indicated when it announced the project last year.
The change was needed as the DOT and contractor Quinn Construction Co. of Palmetto had to agree on a new contract that calls for the bridge on Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 linking Anna Maria Island to the mainland to be completely closed to vehicular traffic for 45 days beginning Sept. 29. The original start date was Jan. 7, with a 75-day bridge closure.
A public outpouring of objections from Island businesses, elected officials and residents, however, forced the DOT to re-examine the length of the original closing, along with the start and end dates for the closure. Originally, the DOT had planned to close the bridge April 1, but Island business owners argued - successfully - that this date was still during the heart of the tourist season and any bridge closure at this time could well ruin many of the smaller restaurants, motels and retail shops that depend upon tourism dollars for their economic survival.
DOT’s director of operations for the Bartow area, Deborah Hunt, told the Manatee County Commission last October that her information gained from tourism industry sources in Manatee County had indicated tourism on the Island ended the week after Easter, which this year falls on March 23.
DOT spokesperson Audrey Clarke said the additional 30 days before the start of the project was also needed by Quinn to rearrange work schedules and allow sub-contractors to adjust their work schedules.
Clarke said the Feb. 4 start date is just for the “mobilization” phase of the planned 400-day project, which is scheduled to conclude on March 10, 2009. During the “set-up process,” Clarke said traffic flow on the bridge should not be affected.
PB Americas Inc., the construction management team hired by the DOT to oversee the work of Quinn, said the work will include repair and resurfacing of concrete decks, repair of piles, seawalls, railings, rebalancing spans and cleaning and repairing of steel. Quinn will also employ lead-abatement procedures, renovate the control house, recondition the drive machinery for the drawbridge and replace the electrical power and control system used to raise and lower the draw.
Hunt told Islanders last October that the renovation project is a stop-gap measure designed to extend the life of the bridge another 15-20 years while the DOT begins the long and tedious process of moving toward approval, funding and construction of a new bridge.
Some Island business owners had wanted a new bridge built as quickly as possible, rather than rehabilitating the current structure, but Hunt quashed that idea, noting then in October 2007 that even by immediately beginning the planning phase, it would still take the DOT a minimum of seven years from start to finish, and that was assuming there were no glitches in the process. A more realistic view is 12-14 years to get a new bridge built and operational, she indicated.
The DOT has now formed the planning team to initiate the feasibility study required for a new bridge, Hunt said.
The estimated cost of a new bridge, in today’s prices, was put at around $30-40 million.
But the delay, while necessary because of the new contract, does not sit well with all Islanders.
“We haven’t even started and we already have a delay,” observed Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford.
“It’s not the end-all, but it raises a little red flag. I understand about the contract changes, but there’s not a lot of comfort to start,” she said, noting that the time frame for the bridge to be closed is from Sept. 30 to Nov. 15.
While that’s usually a slow time of year for Island tourism, any further delay will have the bridge closed during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday, a time when most Island accommodations are fully booked.
And if it takes 75 days of bridge closure or longer to complete the repairs, that means the bridge is closed at the start of the always-busy Christmas holidays, Barford noted.
“I don’t want to be pessimistic. I’m willing to hope for the best,” but at the same time, she said she has to be concerned for the health and safety of Anna Maria residents, who will have to travel the farthest of all Islanders to get to the mainland during the closure period.
With only a little less than two months of bridge closure before winter visitors and residents return, hurricane season still on-going during those months and a history that few construction projects of this type ever finish on time or early, Barford said she wouldn’t be surprised at further delays.
DOT to hold public meeting on Island bridge project
The Florida Department of Transportation will hold a public meeting on the Anna Maria Island Bridge renovation project from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach.
A project-specific Web site at www.amibridgerehab.com should be available for public viewing in the very near future, DOT spokesperson Audrey Clarke said. In addition, Clarke said that after Jan. 15, she will have a local telephone number available for the public to call to obtain bridge construction information.