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Date of Issue: December 14, 2006

New bridge opening schedule: maybe by mid-January

Islanders and Longboat Key residents could see implementation of new bridge opening times for the Cortez Bridge and Anna Maria Island Bridge by mid-January.

Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Mike Howe said that public comment on the proposed rule change ended Dec. 8 and there is a required 30-day waiting period before implementation.

It all depends upon how quickly the U.S. Coast Guard "can obtain all the necessary signatures and publish the final rule, most likely by the end of January," noted Howe.

When the Coast Guard does implement the new rule, it will be posted in its next edition of "Local Notice to Mariners," Howe said.

He said that the proposal is that from Jan. 15 to May 15, the two bridges would open on demand every 30 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. From May 16 through Jan. 14, the bridge opening times would be every 20 minutes, when needed.

The USCG proposal also includes a "curfew" time, or no bridge openings, between 7:35 a.m. and 8:29 a.m. daily and 4:35 to 5:29 p.m. daily.

USCG bridge opening specialist Michael Lieberum said the final ruling might be effective and implemented as early as Jan. 15, 2007.

Members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials, particularly those on Longboat Key, have campaigned for the past five years to have the drawbridge times changed during the winter tourist season. Longboat Key Town Commissioner Jeremy Whatmough and other officials have claimed that the traffic backup at the Cortez Road-Gulf Drive intersection when the Cortez Bridge is raised during the season often extends south along Gulf Drive and across the Longboat Pass Bridge, making a routine 10-minute drive from Longboat Key to Bradenton Beach a one-hour crawl.