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Date of Issue: November 15, 2007

Bridge shutdown trimmed, but county seeks more cuts

Debbie Hunt, operations director for the Florida Department of Transportation's District One office, discusses for the news media plans for the rehab of the Anna Maria Island Bridge. Hunt presented refined plans for the bridge project to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners Nov. 6. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Florida Department of Transportation officials officially shaved 30 days off a shutdown of the Anna Maria Island Bridge, but county officials are pressing the DOT to lose more days.

“If you can, revise the scope of the work,” Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann suggested to the DOT.

DOT officials went before county commissioners Nov. 6, during their regular board meeting at the county administration building in Bradenton. It was the second appearance before the board since the DOT announced that a $9.14 million renovation of the bridge at Manatee Avenue would require an extended closure.

Initially, the DOT planned to close the bridge for 75 days in the spring of 2008, during what Islanders call “high tourist season.”

An uproar from the public and public officials over the plans, as well as the DOT’s lack of communication and coordination with local officials, prompted the state to reconsider and rework the project.

During the presentation to county officials last week, Debbie Hunt, director of operations for the DOT District One office in Bartow, announced an informal poll found that a majority of the public and public safety and public works officials favored a 45-day shutdown of the bridge - what has become known as Scenario A - over two alternatives. One DOT alternative, Scenario B, would have required a 15-day full closure of the bridge, plus a flagging operation with one lane closed for more than 100 days. Another alternative, Scenario C, would have required a 15-day full closure, along with more than 100 days with a lane closed and one-way traffic.

The DOT’s polling began during an Oct. 29 town meeting on the bridge rehab and continued for about a week. By Nov. 6, Hunt said the DOT had received 140 votes for Scenario A, the 45-day closure; 27 votes for Scenario B, the flagging operation; and six votes for Scenario C, the one-way option.

Another 100 people made up a fourth option, Scenario D, the construction of a new bridge, estimated to cost $50-70 million. DOT officials said the department is studying a new bridge for the Island, but such a project was years away and would not take the place of repairs on the 50-year-old drawbridge.

Hunt, with a smile, said four people suggested what became known as Scenario E - a new bridge at a new location on the Island.

She said the DOT would go with Scenario A and would begin renegotiating terms of the contract with Quinn Construction Inc. of Palmetto.

The bridge project will begin Jan. 7, 2008, last for about 400 days, and, in addition to the 45-day closure next fall, be closed for three three-hour periods at some point. The work, which includes removing PCB material that has leaked into concrete, will extend the bridge life 10-15 years.

“We will move forward,” Hunt said.

Commissioners asked that as the DOT moved forward, it review the plans to see if any planned repairs could be eliminated and the planned closure reduced by even more days.

“I am sure there are areas where they can work 24/7,” said Commissioner Donna Hayes. “Forty-five days was a big improvement. But I’d like to see it go (down) a little further.”

Hunt said efforts will be made to keep the closure as short as possible, but she repeated the contractor’s concerns about some nighttime work:

  • The closure will begin in October, during sea turtle nesting season, when night lights may be an issue.
  • Shadow and reflection can be a problem for nighttime work on the water.

Hunt added that the work, especially on the mechanics of the bridge, will take place in tight spaces and different repairs must be done sequentially. She said simply bringing in more workers isn’t the answer. Hunt’s analogy was to an eight-hour plumbing job - the length of the work could not be reduced to an hour by hiring eight plumbers.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, an at-large member of the board from Holmes Beach, asked how the DOT would monitor the contractor, expressing concern about an unexpected, prolonged closure once the work begins.

“I do have concerns,” Whitmore said. “I sure don’t want it to be 75 days or longer.... What if it isn’t working out?”

Whitmore referred to news reports that the contractor went more than 100 days late on two St. Petersburg bridges in 1999 and about five months past deadlines for two bridges on Riverview Boulevard in 2000.

Hunt, saying the contractor had received good grades for past work, said the DOT would have the option to turn to another contractor if Quinn failed to meet its obligations.

Whitmore also urged the DOT to make sure that during the bridge shutdown, no other road work is taking place nearby.

Hunt said transportation officials already were pushing back work, noting that three road projects on Longboat Key would be delayed due to the bridge rehab.

Making the trip to the county administration building to represent Island interests during the meeting were Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger and City Commissioner David Zaccagnino, West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price and Deputy Chief Brett Pollock, Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman, Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford, outgoing Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and others.

While no one seated in the audience commented during the commission meeting on the bridge, there were a lot of comments shared before and after the DOT presentation.

Most agreed that the closure will be difficult for Islanders, but any harm to Island commerce, public safety and convenience must be minimized.

“I feel like they got what they wanted,” Brockman said referring to the DOT. “And we got what was left.”