Traffic buildup brings hope for Island businesses
|Concrete is poured onto the deck of the bridge, then spread by a work crew. Later the concrete was smoothed over.
If there’s ever been a time when Islanders don’t mind seeing more traffic, it could well be now and for the next three weeks.
That’s how much time remains for the Anna Maria Island Bridge to stay closed during the Florida Department of Transportation’s $10.2 million bridge rehabilitation project.
While the bridge is closed, all traffic to and from the mainland has to use the Cortez Bridge, and increasing traffic at the Gulf Drive-Cortez Road intersection indicates more visitors are returning to the Island for the winter season.
“That means more people will be staying in Island accommodations, eating at Island restaurants and shopping in our stores,” said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman.
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said officers assigned to monitor traffic at the Gulf Drive-Cortez Road intersection have noticed a significant increase in vehicle activity there the past week compared with the first two weeks of October.
“During the day, there has definitely been a lot more traffic, especially in the afternoon. It’s been a bit busier,” said Speciale. “On weekends, we’ve seen a lot of traffic coming on and off the Island and I think many of them are coming for the planned activities.”
Traffic southbound on Gulf Drive turning onto Cortez Road often backs up past the Gulf Drive Cafe at 10th Street North during the afternoon when people are leaving the Island, he noted.
The officers assigned to the location are on duty from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekday mornings and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekday afternoons. On weekends, the officers are at the Bradenton Beach traffic light from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“They monitor the traffic and adjust the traffic signal accordingly,” Speciale said. If necessary, the officers can personally direct traffic to get vehicles moving on and off the Island.
Speciale also said that he’s had several complaints from people about vehicle backup caused by the traffic light at the 119th Street and Cortez Road intersection in Cortez.
While that location is outside his jurisdiction, the chief said he contacted Manatee County and DOT officials about altering the timing of the light to allow more vehicles to get through the intersection.
But, Speciale said, he was told by the DOT that the light could not be re-timed.
“We will deal with it as best we can during this period,” he said, reminding motorists that any slight traffic delays at those two intersections is only temporary until Nov. 13, when the AMI Bridge is scheduled to reopen.
“It’s definitely starting to look like the winter season has begun,” the chief said.
Brockman said she was pleased with the work of law enforcement in handling the traffic.
“They’ve been moving the traffic very well,” she said.
“Remember, this is only for a few more weeks, and as we see more and more traffic, we know that more and more people are coming for the winter. We’ve seen a lot of our six-month visitors return, and a lot of people from Germany and elsewhere in Europe are on the Island,” she said.
Island business owners hope that news will be reflected in business activity.
While a number of accommodations, including Haley’s Motel, Tortuga Club and the White Sands Resort, have reported good reservations for the latter half of October, that same activity has not yet shown up in significant numbers in the retail sector.
Several restaurants have reported slower sales than usual for this time in October, and at least one restaurant owner said he might not renew his lease if business doesn’t pick up soon.
Some retail shops, however, have indicated a slight increase in activity in October, but noted that there is still no apparent great influx of customers.
“We need the day visitors,” said Brockman. “They are starting to show up, and I expect BayFest will be a big event this year and draw many of them. We’re all working together.”
DOT says bridge work on schedule
The Florida Department of Transportation’s latest update on the progress of the $10.2 million Anna Maria Island Bridge rehabilitation project said all work is on schedule and the bridge is still slated to reopen Nov. 13.
With just three weeks remaining until the reopening date, DOT spokesperson Audrey Clarke said contractor Quinn Construction Co. of Palmetto and its sub-contractors have been busy maintaining the work schedule, which is now at the half-way point of the project.
Eleven of 26 spans have been repaired, and there have been no delays reported by Quinn to the DOT, she said.
For the latest information on the rehabilitation project, go on the Web to www.islander.org. and click on “Island links.” People without Internet access can call 941-792-0369.
Detour to Paradise
During the closure period, Islanders are being urged by Island businesses, TheIslander newspaper and the chamber of commerce to stay on the Island and “shop local.”
The Islander newspaper is listing a number of activities for Islanders under its weekly “Detour to Paradise” program located elsewhere in this week’s paper.
A large number of activities are planned throughout the Island during the closure period.