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Date of Issue: November 29, 2007

SAM questions DOT over bridge rehab

Save Anna Maria, the organization that led the fight during the 1990s against a 65-foot-high, fixed-span bridge to replace the bridge on Manatee Avenue, said in a Nov. 16 letter to the Florida Department of Transportation that it is not opposed to a new bridge, nor the DOT’s present plan to rehabilitate the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

But SAM indicated that it believes the current structure could last another 75 years and raised a number of questions and concerns about the current renovation project and future plans for the bridge.

The organization is “not against rehabilitation or a replacement bridge for the Manatee Avenue bascule span (drawbridge),” wrote SAM president Jim Kissick, but is “opposed to a ‘mega’ bridge.”

SAM said it has concerns the DOT has not satisfactorily addressed all the issues raised at an Oct. 29 town hall meeting on the bridge rehabilitation and asked if there are no other ways to reduce or possibly eliminate a 45-day closure.

The DOT had originally planned a 75-day closure of the bridge beginning in April, but following a public outcry, changed the plan to a 45-day closure starting in late September or early October.

SAM also asked why it was “not applicable or cost effective, after necessary repairs are made” to use a “fiber-reinforcement material” that might extend the life of the current bridge 75 years?

“Is it absolutely necessary to replace this bridge?” SAM asked the DOT.

Kissick also wanted to know who was appointed the “watch dog” to monitor the contractor for the rehab and report regularly to agencies and the public.

SAM also wondered what was preventing the contractor from working 24/7, claiming “shadow and reflection” should not be an ongoing problem for workers.

The DOT is “obligated to keep our bridge in repair,” said SAM and, the organization contends, the DOT outlined three options for the bridge in 2002 - to build a new bridge, repair the existing bridge or repair and widen the existing bridge.

“If the condition of the bridge was in such dire straights in 2002, why has it taken five years to fix it?” said the letter.

Efforts to reach the DOT for comment were unsuccessful by press deadline due to the Thanksgiving holidays, but spokesperson Audrey Clarke has said the DOT is doing all it can to reduce the 45-day closure period, including having Quinn Construction work around the clock when possible.

DOT engineers have said it is not cost effective to extend the life of the current bridge beyond 10 to 15 years and that a new bridge will be a necessity.