Days of reckoning: Island holds breath as AMI bridge closed
Islanders hope the recently completed extension of the southbound turn lane on Gulf Drive at the Cortez Road intersection is a sign of things to come as the project was done by the Florida Department of Transportation in before the Anna Maria Island Bridge closed for repairs. The bridge closed for repair Sept. 29 and is expected to reopen Nov. 13. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Island business owners and concerned residents will spend the next few weeks holding their collective breath. Crews for contractor Quinn Construction Co. of Palmetto have closed the Anna Maria Island Bridge to normal vehicle traffic for the next 45 days.
The closure could well cause turmoil in the economic life of Island businesses if winter guests fail to return, mainland visitors decline to take daytrips to Anna Maria Island during this period, or if the project extends beyond the scheduled Nov. 13 completion date.
Then again, it could well be that Shakespeare was right and it’s “much ado about nothing.”
Only the next six weeks will bring answers.
The bridge was closed at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 28 to allow Quinn and its sub-contractors unrestricted access to repair the bridge.
Despite pleas by a number of Island business owners, elected officials and The Islander newspaper for the Florida Department of Transportation to move the closure period forward to early mid-August and September, the DOT stuck to its schedule.
“All we can do now is wait and hope,” said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman.
The hope is that winter visitors will return to the Island beginning this month via the Cortez Bridge, and that the bridge will reopen as planned. The DOT has said it chose the late September closure date out of concern for a possible hurricane in September.
Any delay in reopening the bridge could interfere with the Thanksgiving holiday, a major influx of business for Island accommodations, restaurants and shops.
But Quinn Construction can earn up to $650,000 if it completes the job on time. Likewise, Quinn must pay a fine for every day beyond Nov. 13 that it’s work delays opening the bridge.
DOT District No. 1 Secretary Stan Cann in Bartow has said he is confident that Quinn will finish on time, or earlier, unless weather interferes with the project.
While the AMI Bridge is closed, the Island’s only direct connection to the Manatee County mainland will be the Cortez Bridge.
The DOT has widened the southbound turn lane on Gulf Drive at the Cortez Road intersection to accommodate increased traffic, and Bradenton Beach police will be available for traffic control. For the first seven days of the closure, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., law enforcement will be at four major detour intersections, Gulf at Cortez, Cortez at 75th Street, 75th Street at Manatee Avenue, and East Bay Drive at Manatee Avenue.
“Our hope is that our winter visitors will come to the Island and stay on the Island while the bridge is being fixed,” Brockman said.
According to several accommodation owners, advance reservations for October and November are strong, with some properties ahead of last year’s pace.
Winter visitors are still planning to return to the Island in October, said Tom Buehler of Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach.
“If the bridge reopens on schedule, we should be OK,” predicted Brockman.
For the latest information on the rehabilitation project, go on the Web to www.islander.org. and click on “community links.” People without Internet access can call 941-792-0369.
Detour to Paradise
During the closure period, Islanders are being urged to stay on the Island and “shop local” by Island business owners and the Chamber.
The Islander newspaper is listing a number of activities for Islanders under its “Detour to Paradise” program.