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Date of Issue: November 08, 2007

DOT collects ballots on bridge rehab

About 40 people gather at the Island Branch Library Nov. 3 for a Save Anna Maria Inc. meeting with the Florida Department of Transportation. The 90-minute meeting focused on the rehab of the Anna Maria Island Bridge. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Anna Maria Island voters didn’t think there was a big election set for Nov. 6.

But Tuesday became election day for the Florida Department of Transportation and its plans for a $9.14 million rehab of the Anna Maria Island Bridge. Results of the balloting were expected to be released at a Manatee County Commission meeting Nov. 6.

Early voting on three options for the bridge rehab - a 45-day closure in the fall or 15-day closure and 105 days of one lane of traffic with flagging, or one lane of traffic in only one direction - began at a town meeting Oct. 29 - and the DOT continued to collect ballots by paper and e-mail through the week.

“I want as many people as possible to vote on this,” DOT District 1 operations director Debbie Hunt said Nov. 3, before the start of a Save Anna Maria Inc. meeting on the bridge rehab.

Hunt then encouraged the 40 people attending the forum at the Island Branch Library to vote and make their opinions known.

And they did.

Meeting-goers reviewed the pros and cons of the three options, as well as expressed their thoughts on alternative means of transportation during the rehab project, the construction of a new bridge and even building a tunnel instead of a bridge.

The forum began at about 10:30 a.m. SAM organizer Nancy Deal said the DOT had been invited to the SAM meeting well before the October announcement that the bridge needed to be closed for as many as 75 days for rehab in 2008.

“Pure coincidence,” Deal said of the meeting. She then introduced the DOT panel and representatives from P.B. Americas Inc., which is working with the DOT on the project.

DOT project manager Phil Chiarini provided a brief history of the bridge, reviewed the reasons for the needed rehab, estimated to last about 400 days, and repeated the reasons a full closure of the bridge is needed, whether for 45 days or 15 days with extended lane closures.

“There are areas that just cannot be accessed without raising the bridge,” he said. “Some pieces will be coming out. So obviously the spans will not be operable at that point.”

Chiarini added that the workers will need to deal with PCB contaminates at the site, which also necessitates the shut down.

“This work cannot be completed during single, nighttime lane closures,” Chiarini said.

Chiarini, Hunt and the DOT’s Pepe Garcia fielded most of the questions during the 90-minute meeting.

Several people asked DOT officials whether a 45-day shutdown could be trimmed even more by having the contractor work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Hunt pointed out that the shutdown already was being trimmed from 75 days to 45 days, if in fact that is the option the DOT goes with. Also, she said, some nighttime work will take place, but night is not appropriate for all that needs to be done during the closure.

“We have nine subcontractors involved and you have to do the work sequentially,” she said. “The work that’s being done is not your typical road reconstruction project.… Some of the work is not in the least conducive to night work.”

Hunt said space for work will be tight, that workers will be dealing with reflection on the water, shadows and, if the shutdown begins in October, lighting regulations for sea turtle nesting season.

Audience members raised questions about the DOT’s lack of communication on the bridge project. Hunt, who apologized at previous meetings, said, “It didn’t get done. We could of. We should of.”

Some at the meeting endorsed the 45-day closure and others the 15-day full closure with a 115-day lane closure or flagging operation.

A number of people in the audience seemed concerned about the accuracy of the DOT’s timetable.

Steve Ananicz noted that the closure of a mainland bridge was to last three months, but went on for more than a year. “When you start to tear something apart, you open a can of worms,” he said, asking DOT officials how sure they are on the extent of the needed work.

Hunt said the evaluations were extensive and the DOT is “very familiar with the contractor.”

Charlie Canniff asked why fix a bridge to last 10-15 years rather than focus on building a new bridge? “Building a new bascule bridge has lots of advantages,” he suggested.

Longtime Islander Jim Kissick, wearing a “No Mega Bridge” T-shirt, suggested that the study for a new bridge take into consideration the argument that Manatee Avenue may not be the best location for the structure.

Hunt said the DOT is studying a new bridge for the Island and exploring various possibilities, but emphasized that the rehab still must take place. “I cannot guarantee that bridge is not going to fail,” she said.

SAM leader Billie Martini raised several issues about the current bridge and a new bridge.

U.S. Coast Guard regulations, she said, would require that a new bridge either be a bascule or have a 72-foot clearance - a drawbridge or a super-structure.

“With that, you’re up 85 feet above the water, and if that happens, I’m going into a new business selling oxygen tanks,” Martini said.

In regards to the bridge rehab, she warned that the project would likely have dire consequences for the business community and suggested the DOT consider using carbon-composite technology.

Garcia replied that carbon composite adds strength to structures, but it is not appropriate for the AMI Bridge project.

“It’s not applicable to all the needs,” he said, noting the deterioration of concrete and steel corrosion on the bridge. “Carbon composite has to be applied to restored surfaces.… This is not a candidate.”

Due to the length of the discussion, SAM postponed a business meeting scheduled to follow.

SAM's next meeting will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at the West Manatee Fire Rescue Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. For more information, call 941-778-4255.