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Date of Issue: December 21, 2006

New bridge schedules delayed until April

hb bridge pic

Islanders and Longboat Key residents hoping to see implementation of new bridge-opening times for the Cortez Bridge and Anna Maria Island Bridge by mid-January will have to wait a little longer, perhaps even until after the winter tourist season ends.

U.S. Coast Guard  bridge opening specialist Michael Lieberum in Miami said publication of the final ruling is taking longer than expected. Earlier this month, he was hopeful of having the new opening times in place by the end of January, but it now appears that April is the likely implementation date.

That means Island motorists will have another winter season of 20-minute on demand bridge openings, instead of the 30-minute intervals in the new order.

Before the new times can begin, the Coast Guard has to post the new rules in an edition of "Local Notice to Mariners," Lieberum said, and that might not be possible until March.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford and Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said that the April start of the new opening times was confirmed by Manatee-Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization director Mike Howe at the recent December MPO meeting.

The Coast Guard 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, as 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.

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.