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Date of Issue: April 22, 2009

DOT: High-rise replacement for AMI Bridge not final

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The Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue, pictured here last week, opened with a toll on on Sept. 4, 1957. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Florida Department of Transportation project manager Chris Piazza told representatives at the Manatee Council of Governments April 15 meeting that the DOT recommendation on a replacement for the Anna Maria Island Bridge is a 65-foot-high, fixed-span structure built on an alignment about 15 feet south of the present bridge.

Following the meeting, however, Piazza cautioned that this is not the DOT’s formal recommendation to the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency that makes the ultimate decision on new bridges across the Intracoastal Waterway.

“This is our recommendation at this point. We are still getting public opinion before we officially notify the Coast Guard,” Piazza said.

Piazza said he has yet to meet with four elected bodies, including the Board of Manatee County Commissioners and the Manatee-Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization, to present the DOT recommendation and the various options for a replacement bridge.

If those elected officials can change the DOT’s current opinion, the recommendation to the Coast Guard will change accordingly, he said.

The high-rise, fixed-span recommendation is based on several factors, Piazza said, not the least of which is that 83 percent of people surveyed by the DOT the past year preferred a replacement bridge rather than continued rehabilitation of the 52-year-old structure. Of those 83 percent, 77 percent said their preference was for a fixed-span, high-rise bridge.

Other factors supporting the recommendation are engineering analysis and environmental studies, he said.

DOT District One Secretary Stan Cann said the department now has to inform elected officials of its recommendation to ensure proper public input.

“We have to let elected officials know our intentions. This gives a chance for the elected board member to comment on a specific endorsement,” he said.

Cann said it didn’t make any difference that the Council of Governments is not an elected board, but a non-voting group of elected officials from throughout the county.

Presenting the recommendation now gives elected officials from different jurisdictions “time to study our recommendation and other options” and provide input, he said.

DOT spokesperson Cindy Clemmons-Adente said that the DOT plans to issue a press release and update the AMI Bridge Web site with its formal recommendation after its presentation to the Manatee County Commission and the MPO. The release will be made prior to submittal of the recommendation to the Coast Guard, she said.

The cost of a high-rise bridge is estimated at $102 million, about $30 million less than a drawbridge would cost, Piazza said in March.

Opponents of a high-rise, fixed-span bridge said the DOT announcement was not unexpected.

Ursula Stemm, president of Save Anna Maria, a group opposed to a high-rise bridge, said she was “disappointed,” in the DOT decision, but “I knew it was inevitable.”

She also said she didn’t expect the DOT announcement until June.

Stemm said the SAM organization, which fought against a high-rise bridge proposal a decade ago, would again take up the fight.

“We’ve already spoken to our legal counsel and we have the same grassy-bed issue as before. We are going to fight the DOT,” she said.

Stemm dismissed the 10- to 15-year timetable as irrelevant. “If it’s going to take that long, why did county commissioners go to Washington looking for money for a new bridge?” she asked.

Stemm also questioned the results of the DOT survey indicating 77 percent favor a high-rise bridge, noting that more people spoke against such a bridge at the March 26 public hearing than spoke in favor of such a structure.

SAM favors repairing the existing bridge as long as possible, Stemm said.

Holmes Beach City Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens, however, said opinion polls show Islanders are overwhelmingly in favor of a high-rise bridge as a replacement.

 “This project is still a long way off,” Haas-Martens said, “but 83 percent of the people said they wanted a replacement bridge and 77 percent said they wanted a high-rise bridge. The public is in favor of this and I believe the Island needs at least one high-rise bridge.

“We need a non-opening bridge for the Island that will have emergency lanes,” she said.

 

Not so soon

Islanders anticipating either a legal battle over a high-rise bridge, or the start of construction, may have a long time to wait.

The DOT has no money or a timetable for the project. There are no funds for engineering, design, or environmental impact studies for a new AMI Bridge in the Manatee-Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization’s current five-year master transportation plan.

DOT officials have indicated that it would be a minimum 10-12 years for a new bridge project to get under way. A more likely time frame is 15 to 20 years, Piazza has said previously.

Clemmons-Adente said any funding considerations would not take place until after the Coast Guard formally approves a DOT recommendation.