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Date of Issue: May 11, 2006

Bridge improvements conducted, more in works?

Could lights have helped deter a fatal accident on the Anna Maria Island Bridge last month?

They sure couldn't have hurt any, according to local law enforcement officials, and the matter is now being looked into by the Florida Department of Transportation.

In fact, DOT crews were re-striping all of the bridges on Manatee Avenue leading west from Bradenton to Anna Maria Island last week -Wares Creek Bridge, Palma Sola Bay Bridge, Perico Bay Bridge and Anna Maria Island Bridge - as well as adding "reflective pavement markers."

On April 8, a car driven by Zane Zavadil, 19, crashed through the bridge railing. The Bradenton man died in the crash; passenger Ryan Costello, 20, also of Bradenton, was seriously injured. He is now at Blake Medical Center, having been moved there recently from Tampa General Hospital.

That crash is just one of several that have taken place on Island bridges in recent years. Greg Lapensee crashed through the railing and ended up in the water in 2000; another car went into Anna Maria Sound in 2005, according to Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine.

He also remembered a crash that resulted in a fatality off the Longboat Bridge in the late-1980s.

That was a crash that Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale also worked. In fact, he dove into the wreckage to retrieve a body.

Cortez Bridge has not had as many vehicles exit the span and enter the water, a fact that Speciale attributes to both lighting and driver behavior.

"There seem to be more younger people going across the Anna Maria Island Bridge," he said. "The span also seems longer and darker."

Indeed, when the DOT opted to repair rather than replace the Cortez Bridge in the mid-1990s, it added lights to the bridge.

When the DOT did similar repairs to the Anna Maria Island Bridge a few years later, no lights were added.

"It's a narrow bridge and there isn't much room for error," said Romine of the bridge linking Holmes Beach to Perico Island. "Lights would help, but it really needs safety lanes."

The safety lanes may be off in the distant future, with the reflectors being added, and lights may not be that far away.

DOT's Debbie Tower said the department is reviewing the bridge lighting. "After the fatal accident several weeks ago, the DOT has plans to conduct a site visit to the bridge and review the safety features."