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Date of Issue: February 27, 2008

DOT builds new reputation on AMI

bridge-rehab.jpg
Rehab center
Workers for Quinn Construction Company of Palmetto closed the north sidewalk on the Anna Maria Bridge last week for the beginning of the Florida Department of Transportationís $9.1 million renovation project. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Back in the mid-1990s, when the Florida Department of Transportation first proposed a fixed-span, high-rise bridge to replace Anna Maria Island drawbridges, the reputation of many DOT officials at the time stemmed from an attitude that could have been considered condescending at best, and antagonistic at worst.

Shouting matches, threats and lawsuits from Islanders, including the Save Anna Maria organization, greeted the DOT and its minions, both in and out of public meetings on the issue. Islanders came to regard DOT staffers as harbingers of red tide, citrus canker and bad breath - and that might be putting it mildly.

 Replacement plans for the Cortez Bridge were withdrawn and a rehab program was enacted. The DOT then looked north to the Anna Maria Island Bridge and made plans to replace that span, prompting further outcry. That plan was eventually scrapped by a less-than-happy DOT after lawsuits and a negative response from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Ten years later, however, there appears to be a kinder, gentler DOT doing business on the Island.

Deb Hunt, the DOT District 1 director of operations for the Bartow region, was quick to respond last October to public criticism of DOT’s failed communications with the public about a planned 75-day traffic closure of the bridge starting in April, as part of its $9.1 million bridge rehabilitation project.

Following public input, the DOT reorganized its work schedule and contract to accommodate Islanders concerns, changing the closure dates to Sept. 29-Nov. 13, a 45-day closure period during the slow period for Island tourism.

And when SAM president Billie Martini of Holmes Beach asked the DOT about new U.S. Coast Guard regulations on the clearance height of bridges built along the Intracoastal Waterway, the DOT responded with a personal visit to Martini by Albert Rosenstein, the agency’s engineering manager in Sarasota.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Martini, adding that the last thing she expected out of the DOT following her inquiry was a personal visit.

“I had asked for information and he came to my house and brought the information. We talked about a new bridge and he said he would come to a SAM meeting with other DOT officials to discuss a new bridge. I’m very pleased that the DOT is being so nice after what happened before.”

Martini said she’ll invite Rosenstein and other DOT representatives to make a presentation as they obtain more information from the current study for a new bridge.

“I think we’ll wait until they have more information, but he seemed very interested in hearing what we have to say. I’m impressed,” she said.

DOT spokesperson Cindy Clemmons-Adente said the DOT has already begun the groundwork for the study (see related story).

And in keeping with the kinder, gentler DOT spirit, the department has mailed out 5,500 questionnaires/newsletters to Islanders and interested parties asking for input on a new bridge. The letter said that the input will be included in the final report, expected later this year.

Hunt said last October that it would take at least a year before the study is complete, and that the DOT would hold a public meeting on the Island this summer for input into the study.

At a minimum, it will be about seven to nine years before any construction would begin, she said then.

The current $9.1 million rehabilitation project for the bridge will extend the lifespan of the structure another 15 years, Hunt has indicated. Long enough to get a new bridge planned and built.

The rehab project officially began Feb. 4, when work crews from Quinn Construction Company of Palmetto began placing equipment in a fenced storage area at the east entrance of the bridge in anticipation of the start of any construction or demolition.

According to the DOT’s project Web site, the company will begin moving in portable hydraulic equipment in the near future. Quinn closed the north sidewalk of the bridge last week as workers prepared to install the equipment that will be used to raise and lower the draw during repairs to the main electrical component of the span.

For the most up-to-date information on the project, members of the public can go on the Internet to www.amibridgerehab.com. People without Internet access can call 941-792-0369 to obtain information.

 

New bridge study under way, public input sought

The Florida Department of Transportation has begun a project development and environmental (PD&E) study of the Anna Maria Island Bridge to determine whether or not the bridge needs to be replaced subsequent to completion of the current $9.1 million rehabilitation project - expected to extend the life of the bridge 10 to 15 years.

According to the DOT Web site for the study, DOT officials will examine what type of structure, if any, should be built, including the merits of a high-rise bridge or a bascule (draw) bridge. The study will also look at inclusion of up-to-date barrier walls, whether the bridge should be two-lanes or four-lanes and whether pedestrian and bicycle amenities can be included. A “no-build” alternative will also be examined, along with the environmental impact of any new bridge constsruction.

The study is expected to take about 12 months and the findings of the study will be presented to the public and government officials upon conclusion.

The DOT has mailed out 5,500 newsletters to Islanders and concerned residents asking for comments and inviting questions about a new bridge. Included in the newsletter was a statement from the DOT that the “design, right-of-way, and construction phases for the replacement of the Anna Maria Island Bridge are NOT scheduled in the FDOT tentative five-year work program.”

In addition, people interested in obtaining a questionnaire, adding comments or getting on the DOT mailing list for information on the progress of the study are asked to call Chris Piazza of the DOT at 863-519-2293, or e-mail Piazza at chris.piazza@dot.state.fl.us.

“Public involvement will be an extremely important component” of the study, said the newsletter. “A public information workshop will be scheduled this summer to provide interested persons an opportunity” to offer the DOT input on the study and offer alternatives. A formal public hearing to “display the preferred alternative(s),” will be held this fall, the DOT said.

The DOT, in keeping with its 2008 approach to new bridge construction, did not stop with just that offer to the Island public.

DOT representatives are available to governmental agencies, groups and organizations for a presentation on the status of the study, the letter said.

The bridge already has been classified as “structurally sound,” but “functionally obsolete,” by DOT engineer Pepe Garcia (The Islander, Aug. 8, 2007), but its “safety” level ranking is at a 5, the lowest possible DOT rating to keep any bridge operational for vehicular traffic. If the next inspection - scheduled for later this year - finds the service level at 4 or below, the DOT may have to close the bridge to vehicular traffic until repairs bring the structure back up to at least a 5 rating, Garcia said.

For more information on the PD&E, the DOT has a Web site at www.annamariaislandbridge.com. The site can also be accessed through a link at the bridge rehab Web site. Public comments regarding both the renovation project and the study of a replacement bridge can be made at the Web site, the DOT said.

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