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Date of Issue: November 01, 2007

DOT reviews bridge options with public safety officers

State transportation officials said last week they could probably reduce the amount of time needed to close the Anna Maria Island Bridge for renovations from 75 days to 45 days.

Transportation officials, in a roundtable meeting with local public safety officials Oct. 26 at Holmes Beach City Hall, also confirmed they are exploring an alternative - a one-lane, one-way route on the bridge for 105-115 days.

After about 90 minutes of discussion, a consensus was reached among the officials representing Longboat Key police and fire departments, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach police departments, West Manatee Fire Rescue, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Manatee County emergency operations. From the public safety perspective, a 45-day closure in the late fall and early winter would be preferable to the spring, and probably easier to handle than a one-way, one-lane operation for nearly a third of the year. Officials are concerned about emergency response times in heavy traffic, and emergency vehicle access to and from the Island.

“I’d rather have you close it, get it done and get out,” said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale.

Transportation officials reiterated Oct. 26 that the bridge rehab is necessary, even if a new bridge from Perico Island to Anna Maria Island is 10-15 years in the future.

“Essentially what we have is a structure that is 50-years-old with significant repair needs,” said the DOT’s Pepe Garcia. He listed a variety of problems with the bridge, some, such as corrosion, caused by salt in the air and water and “visible to the naked eye.”

Paul Smith, of Parkers Brinckerhoff, which is working with the DOT on the bridge project, added that the electrical system on the bridge dates to 1955. “Does anybody have a 1955 TV anymore?” he asked, rhetorically.

Basically without renovations, weight restrictions would need to be put in place, reliability would become a problem and within five years the bridge could be closed to traffic, Smith said.

Reviewing the planning DOT already put into the $9.1 million bridge rehabilitation, Garcia said initially only one lane of the bridge was to be closed to traffic.

But factors, especially concerns about traffic backing up, convinced the DOT’s engineers and the project contractor that a shutdown of the bridge would be best.

Garcia said the projected 75-day closure could be reduced to 45 days, though costs would increase.

An alternative, Garcia said, might be to open the bridge to traffic going in one direction, though the duration of the one-way, one-lane operation would be more than twice as long as a shutdown.

Also, engineers have yet to determine whether the one lane could accommodate public safety vehicles - an ambulance weighs about 18,000 pounds, a fire truck about 40,000 pounds and a ladder truck about 80,000 pounds.

“The traffic analysis is being done,” Garcia said.

After reviewing the situation, Garcia asked the public safety officials, “In your opinion, which is best?”

The local officials dealt with the time period first.

“April is a madhouse around here,” Speciale said, adding that a bridge shutdown during high season would back up traffic from Manatee Avenue to Anna Maria City. “I can’t even imagine.”

“The latter part of the year is best,” said WMFR Chief Andy Price.

Pushing back the date for the heavy bridgework also would provide local officials an opportunity to budget for extra staffing and other expenses, Price observed. Fiscal budgets begin Oct. 1, so current budgets do not account for emergency operations associated with the bridge project.

The single-lane, single-direction concept - probably with traffic going eastbound on the AMI Bridge - somewhat appealed to the public safety officials, who want to get on and off the Island quickly. But they agreed a big downside is the extended time, 115 days instead of 45 days.

As for building a new bridge, Garcia emphasized that the focus at the state level is on cutting expenses, not increasing them.

“We’re talking about some significant dollars at a time when DOT is looking at cuts,” he said. “It’s like having no food, no money and being hungry.”

Going ahead, transportation officials will post information about the bridge project at www.amibridgerehab.com.

Island businessman Barry Gould also is launching an informational site, www.amibridge.com.