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Date of Issue: December 06, 2007

Buchanan seeks consensus on new bridge

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan will carry a request for funding for a new bridge to Anna Maria Island to Washington, D.C.

But first, the local congressman needs an Islandwide consensus behind a new bridge, according to Buchanan spokesperson Sally Tibbetts.

Buchanan is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which already is working on a reauthorization bill that would include transportation money for 2010. The fiscal year would begin in October 2009.

Last week, Buchanan discussed the prospect of building a new bridge to the Island with Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.

“I’m asking him to help get money for a new bridge,” Bohnenberger said. “I think the message is clear from the Island. We need to start thinking about a new bridge.”

A new fixed-span, high bridge to replace the drawbridge on State Road 64 was proposed but dropped by the Florida Department of Transportation a decade ago.

While the DOT maintains that a new bridge will be needed in 10-15 years, the state plans a $9 million rehab of the Anna Maria Island Bridge beginning in January. The project will involve the full closure of the bridge for 45 days next fall, forcing motor vehicle traffic to the Cortez Bridge and possibly delaying boat travel on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

The DOT’s plans for a rehab, especially the full bridge closure, resurrected talk of a new bridge.

During a town meeting in Holmes Beach earlier this fall, many attendees urged the DOT to build a new bridge. Island municipal officials, emergency officials and county commissioners also have urged a study for a new bridge.

Many people also endorsed a new bridge - though not whether such a structure should be a drawbridge or fixed span - in a poll conducted by the DOT.

State transportation officials have estimated that a new bridge would cost about $70 million and emphasized the current need at the state level for fiscal restraint.

Tibbetts said there is a process to follow for requesting federal funding for such a new bridge.

The 13th Congressional District office “would need for community leaders and elected officials to build a consensus throughout the region that this is a priority. They would need to fill out a form that we provide to make the request so it can be weighed and reviewed against other requests that we receive.”

“It’s important to lay the groundwork now,” Tibbetts added.

Proposed transportation projects would be reviewed by the House Transportation Committee.

Florida members on the committee include Buchanan, Corrine Brown, Mario Diaz-Balart, Connie Mack and John L. Mica from Orlando, who is the ranking Republican on the committee.

The state representation, Tibbetts said, should be helpful in securing funding for projects to Florida.