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Date of Issue: May 04, 2006

Trial half-hour timed bridge openings OK'd

The U.S. Coast Guard has agreed to a trial program of twice-per-hour, on-request drawbridge openings for the Anna Maria Island and Cortez bridges for a four-month period during the winter "season."

The bridges currently open up to three times per hour on demand from boaters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, on the hour and 20 minutes thereafter. That schedule would still be in place for the remaining eight months of the year.

"This has not been an easy decision," said Coast Guard Assistant Chief of Operations Michael Lieberum. "The vehicle traffic counts and bridge logs do not support changing the existing bridge regulations. On the other hand, your area does have a serious vehicle traffic problem during the winter months."

A "curfew" for openings during morning and late-afternoon hours, proposed by Island officials, was vetoed by the Coast Guard.

What remains to be determined is what four months constitue "season" for the half-hour schedule adjustment, and that will likely be decided at the Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting later this month.

"Please advise which four months out of the year your vehicle traffic is the heaviest and we will write the final rule," Lieberum wrote in a letter to the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The decision by the Coast Guard came after years of urgina and debate. The most recent matter culminated after a public hearing on the Island earlier this year, when boaters and motorists spoke to the change in openings.

Boaters have objected to the more relaxed openings of the drawbridges on grounds of safety; motorists have advocated the change as a means to improve traffic flow and reduce fuel consumption.

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