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Date of Issue: January 23, 2008

AMI bridge meeting draws sparse crowd

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Cortez connection
A Florida Department of Transportation map shows how vehicle traffic to and from Anna Maria Island will be re-routed to the Cortez Bridge during the 45 days the Anna Maria Island Bridge will be closed beginning Sept. 29.

There’s nothing like a little compromise to soothe the ire of Islanders upset with the Florida Department of Transportation’s original proposal for rehabilitating the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

Fewer than 75 people attended the DOT’s public meeting Jan. 17 at St. Bernard Catholic Church to get the latest update on the planned $9.1 million project, a far cry from the estimated 400 who appeared at the church Oct. 29 to protest the DOT’s original plan.

Charges levied against the DOT at that meeting included that the DOT had a “failure to communicate” the bridge plans to appropriate local and county officials, not to mention the general public. It was a charge the DOT did not deny.

Most complaints centered on the plan to close the bridge in April for 75 days.

After public input and discussions with Manatee County officials and contractor Quinn Construction Company Inc. of Palmetto, the DOT presented a new proposal that called for the bridge to close Sept. 29 for just 45 days.

That apparently has soothed the savage Island beast, not to mention the anger of County Commissioner Joe McClash, who severely chastised the DOT last fall for its lack of communcation

The Jan. 17 meeting was part of the DOT’s effort to improve communications with the public about the project. While not completely impressed, McClash said the department is now “making a good effort” to keep officials and the public abreast of what’s happening with the project.

DOT public information officer Audrey Clarke served as moderator at the Jan. 17 meeting and said a Web site is now available at www.amibridgerehab.com for the complete and up-to-date project information.

Others who attended the meeting were not impressed with the effort.

“It was kind of a non-event,” said Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford. “We didn’t need an historical update of the bridge,” nor another lesson why the bridge has to be renovated.

She said she was disappointed there was no direct question-and-answer period between the public and the DOT officials in attendance as she still has concerns about the opening and closing times of the Cortez Bridge when it becomes the sole means of access to the mainland. Barford said she e-mailed her questions to the DOT following the meeting.

“I’m trying not to be negative, but we’re already a month late,” from the Jan. 7 start date the DOT had set after the October public meeting. “But, at least, we’re moving forward.”

The current DOT plan calls for the contractor to begin preparation work on the project Feb. 4 with the scheduled closing to all vehicular traffic from Sept. 29 to Nov. 12. During this period, most vehicle traffic to the Island from the mainland will have to utilize the Cortez Bridge. The Longboat Pass Bridge connecting Bradenton Beach to Longboat Key and parts south will be fully operational as well.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami (see separate story) the AMI Bridge may occasionally be raised for some boat traffic during this period.

Quinn has a 400-day window to complete the project and the DOT has offered a monetary incentive of $10,000 per day for every day the company completes the project before the limit.