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Date of Issue: January 30, 2008

Top DOT official surveys AMI bridge

Bridge-tender Bob Nappi, right, shows Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos and Florida state Rep. Bill Galvano his station on the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos vowed to see the local vision as the state proceeds with a study for a new bridge to Anna Maria Island.

Kopelousos toured the northernmost Anna Maria Island drawbridge Jan. 25 with Florida state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and a number of transportation officials. During the brief walk, she said the DOT has not predetermined what type of new bridge to build to the Island, nor the location.

“Part of what we do is build consensus,” Kopelousos said. “The locals have a vision of what they want and a study will allow public input. That’s why we will do the study, to get it right.”

The secretary also vowed to keep watch over the $9.14 million rehabilitation of the bridge on Manatee Avenue linking Anna Maria and Perico islands. The bridge is one of three from the island, the other two being the Cortez Bridge from Bradenton Beach to Cortez and the Longboat Key span at the south end of the Island. The AMI rehab will begin Feb. 4 under the direction of the DOT and under contract with Quinn Construction of Palmetto.

The rehabilitation work will require a 45-day shutdown of the bridge that is scheduled to begin Sept. 29.

The shutdown initially was to be 75 days starting in April, but protests from the county administration building in Bradenton to Island city halls, churches, restaurants and residences pushed the DOT to reconsider and renegotiate the contract.

Stanley Cann, secretary of the DOT District 1, again apologized for a failure to work with the public earlier on the bridge repairs during an invitation-only luncheon Jan. 25 with Galvano, Kopelousos and a number of elected officials and civic leaders at the Mangrove Grill in Palmetto.

“That was dumb,” Cann said of the 75-day announcement made without consulting Islanders or local officials on the schedule. “We need to have much better communication with the community. And believe me, the people in my district are very sensitive now. It’s been a tough situation, but it’s been a good experience.”

The luncheon followed the secretary’s tour of transportation project zones in Galvano’s district, including the Mount Vernon Drive intersection on Cortez Road and the AMI drawbridge on State Road 64.

The rehab will extend the life of the bridge 10-15 years and involves repair of the concrete deck, railing, beams, piles, seawalls and bascule; removal of PCB-contaminated pier concrete, resurfacing of the deck, repair of the bascule span steel, rebalancing the span, cleaning and painting steel, removing lead, reconditioning the drive machinery and replacement of the electrical system.

The 30-minute bridge walk began at about 11 a.m. on the northeast side of the span. Kopelousos and Galvano walked side by side, with the lawmaker explaining concerns and interests and the secretary asking questions and offering reassurances.

“I’m very familiar with this,” Kopelousos said of the bridge project and the Island locale, adding that she visits family in the area.

Galvano stepped to the middle of the bridge. Below a small boat passed, leaving a froth of white, and behind Galvano cars rolled past, most of them going 50-plus mph.

“This is where it gets really bad, right here,” Galvano told Kopelousos, tapping his foot on the steel grating.

There was rust on the grate and the concrete looked rough. Some feet ahead of them the concrete was a lighter shade - a repair following a fatal accident on the bridge last May.

“Also, there is certainly a deterioration that you don’t see from here,” said the DOT’s Pepe Garcia.

“What will be the timeline?” Kopelousos asked of the rehab.

“It starts next month and it’s a 400-day project,” Cann said.

Within that period, he reminded the secretary, is the 45-day shutdown. “In the closure part, we just can’t have traffic,” he said. “We’ll get it done faster if we don’t have traffic.”

Galvano acknowledged that the bridge, which carries about 17,000 cars a day, will be closed to traffic, forcing a detour to the 50-year-old Cortez Bridge, which already carries some 13,000 vehicles daily. But Galvano continued last week to quietly encourage the shutdown to take place two weeks earlier than the Sept. 29 target date to provide the contractor with more cushion to complete the work before the winter tourist season.

He also continued to discuss with DOT officials at least one new bridge to the Island, which could cost some $60 million for a fixed span or $75 million for a bascule bridge. Galvano said he is “earnest” about a replacement bridge.

“We need to get that bridge replaced,” Kopelousos agreed. “More and more you see we have aging infrastructure.”

A project development study for a new Island bridge is under way.

“We have kicked it off, the study to eventually replace that bridge,” said Cann, adding that the DOT has condensed the study period from 18 months to 12 months. “We got a lot of information the last time,” he noted, adding that the Cortez Bridge will also need to be addressed in the near future.

He also noted that last time around, the DOT got a lot of opposition to the high, fixed-span bridge it proposed. This time, he said, the proposal will be built by consensus.

“What we want at the end of the study is community consensus on what a new bridge will look like,” Cann said.

“A lot of public input is important,” Kopelousos added.

Galvano said his invitation for Kopelousos to tour the area was part of an effort to bring the leadership in Tallahassee to districts to see first-hand citizens’ needs.

“Under Gov. (Charlie) Crist, all the agency heads are encouraged to be hands on with the issues we have,” he said.

In the upcoming legislative session, transportation will be the top priority, Galvano said. “We’re looking at the big picture instead of Band-Aids,” referring to funding concerns.”

Kopelousos also stressed money concerns, encouraging support for public-private partnerships in new transportation projects and less reliance on gas-tax revenues.