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Date of Issue: August 09, 2007

Anna Maria Bridge: structurally sound but obsolete

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No worries, itís safe
The Anna Maria Bridge is safe for vehicular traffic, according to the Florida Department of Transportation, even when traffic backs up during a bridge-raising or construction. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Following the collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis last week, Florida Department of Transportation officials are reassessing the most recent DOT inspections of bridges, including the three leading to Anna Maria Island.

The good news, according to DOT district structures maintenance engineer Pepe Garcia, is that all three bridges to the Island are considered safe.

The bad news, however, is that the DOT believes that the Anna Maria Island Bridge, while “structurally safe,” is “functionally obsolete.” That means that while it’s safe to drive on, it should be replaced because the lanes are too narrow, it has a low clearance for boats and does not meet current construction standards.

As Islanders well know, that’s not “new” news.

 During the mid 1990s, the DOT attempted to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge, built in 1955, with a high-rise structure, but was rebuffed by Island opposition and, eventually, a lawsuit and a decision that a replacement bridge would have adverse environmental impacts. The DOT still believes, however, that most of the bridges under its care have essentially a 50-year life span and they prefer to eliminate draw bridges.

Now, the DOT plans a $10 million renovation project for the Anna Maria Island Bridge that is expected to start this fall (The Islander, May 9). When it was announced, William Thomas of the DOT called the project a “major bridge rehabilitation” that should extend the life of the bridge for another 15 years.

The DOT undertook a similar project on the Cortez Bridge 10 years ago that resulted in lane closures and, in several instances, a complete shutdown of the bridge. Thomas said in May that closing the Anna Maria Island Bridge for several days during the renovation project is a possibility.

But Island bridges are safe, said Cindy Clemmons-Adente of the DOT’s Bartow office.

The DOT inspects all bridges in Florida annually and assigns a rating to the bridge. Any structure with a rating of 4 or below is deemed “structurally deficient,” which is a polite way of saying the bridge is unsafe for vehicular traffic. None of the three bridges leading to the Island have a rating below 5, Garcia said.

That should make motorists feel better when they’re stuck on the bridge during a drawbridge raising or because of roadwork, which will become more frequent when the DOT project begins this fall.