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Date of Issue: April 09, 2008

DOT: Four-lane bridge 'not an option'

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Anna Maria Island residents and city officials mingle and visit at the Florida Department of Transportation meeting in Holmes Beach April 3 seeking comments on the DOT study to replace (or not) the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

The current version of the Florida Department of Transportation appears to have struck a perfect note for Islander ears at its public information meeting on a future Anna Maria Island Bridge April 3 at St. Bernard Catholic Church.

Chris Piazza, the DOT’s project engineer for the current study on a replacement bridge, said any new structure will not be four-lanes, but will have to remain just two-lanes wide.

That’s not because of any “kinder, gentler” feelings toward Islanders, however. It’s because the Sarasota-Manatee Master Planning Organization has already listed the Palma Sola Causeway - State Road 64 - as “constrained,” meaning it can’t be widened, not even by the DOT.

With that option off the table, Piazza and other DOT representatives mingled with the estimated 175 people who attended, inviting public comments and suggestions to be submitted “for the record.” Scribes were available to input comments.

And public comments are “a very important part of this study,” Piazza said, and public preference for the type of new structure will be taken into account in the ongoing planning, development and environmental study, he maintained.

That’s a far cry from the 1990s DOT effort to build a new bridge, said Holmes Beach resident Billi Martini, who helped lead the Save Anna Maria organization’s successful effort to halt a new bridge project before construction began.

“Back then, the DOT said, ‘We’re going to build this bridge whether you like it or not,’” said Martini.

“I’m really pleased with this new approach. They are being very nice this time. They are doing it the right way, I just hope they listen to us,” she said.

Listening and watching appeared to be the main reasons for the meeting.

A 15-minute video was shown on the half hour during the three-hour meeting to give some background on the Project Development and Environment Study by the DOT for a replacement facility. The final results are expected in late fall and the DOT will hold a public meeting when those results are available.

Piazza said the PD&E will “look at all options” for a replacement bridge, including low-rise, mid-rise and high-rise. The “no-build” option will also be included and public input is needed for the study, he added.

A low-rise structure would be approximately 20 to 25 feet above the high-water mark, Piazza indicated, while a mid-rise bridge would be in the 40 to 50 foot range. A high-rise structure would be 65 feet or higher.

The PD&E will also include an ongoing survey of the mast heights of boats passing through the raised drawbridge and the environmental impact of a new bridge on plant and marine life in the area north and south of any new facility.

Unlike the 1990s effort, this time around, the DOT is “touching all the bases,” he said, emphasizing several times that the DOT has nothing in its five-year plan through 2013 for even the design phase of a new bridge. Nothing has been decided, and won’t be until the public reviews the PD&E study and makes further comments, he said.

The DOT effort to keep the public informed pleased a number of people who attended, including Martini and Holmes Beach City Commissioner David Zaccagnino.

“It’s a good showing,” said Zaccagnino. “and I’m hopeful, but we’ll have to wait for results.”

Likewise for Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford. “I’m pleased to see a new bridge going forward at this pace. The DOT is really moving fast on this.”

But not all members of the public were impressed.

“This meeting is a total lack of anything,” said George Wilson of Holmes Beach, a winter resident to the Island. “I don’t know if it will do any good.”

Others suggested that the DOT was ignoring its own 1990s study, while Bill Hahn of Holmes Beach was surprised that the DOT representative he spoke with did not appear to know anything about wind and height of construction related to bridge closures.

“This should be part of their planning,” he said. “The bridge should be designed for maximum safety.”

Piazza said the DOT will look at wind data, but that’s not the PD&E study’s focus. That issue would come up during the design and construction phase, he said.

He also noted that the DOT wants a “fresh approach” for the current PD&E study, but would still look at the 1990s study for any relevant data.

 Surprisingly, although Piazza said the lead agency for any new bridge would be the U.S. Coast Guard because the bridge is part of the Intracoastal Waterway system, no one from that service attended the meeting.

Piazza invited public comment from those who did not attend the meeting. The deadline for input to the DOT for inclusion in the PD&E study is April 14.

 

Forms still available

Comment and preference forms for the PD&E study of a replacement for the AMI Bridge can be found on the DOT’s Web site at www.annamariaislandbridge.com, or by e-mailing DOT project manager Chris Piazza at chris.piazza@dot.state.fl.us.

People without Internet access can call the DOT at 800-292-3368.

For the most up-to-date information on the current Anna Maria Island Bridge renovation 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 rehab information.

Comment forms may be returned to Piazza at the Florida Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow FL 33831.

 

High-rise bridge favored by Islanders

As of April 2, the DOT survey results showed 67 percent favor a high-rise structure, 11 percent want a mid-rise bridge and 6 percent prefer a low-rise facility.

Islanders overwhelmingly voted for a new bridge, with 82 percent of those surveyed to date saying they want a new bridge, while 15 percent have said no new bridge. Some voters were undecided.

The most important reason for a new bridge was for emergency evacuation, said 58 percent of respondents, while 41 percent said road traffic and 32 percent claimed property access was the most important reason. Respondents were allowed to list their top three preferences.