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Date of Issue: April 18, 2009

DOT to recommend high-rise replacement for AMI Bridge

Islander Graphic: Courtesy Florida Department of Transporation

Florida Department of Transportation project manager Chris Piazza said yesterday that the DOT will recommend that the Anna Maria Island Bridge be replaced by a 65-foot-high, fixed-span structure.

Piazza told a meeting of the Manatee Council of Governments that the recommendation will next be forwarded to the U.S. Coast Guard for final approval.

Piazza said the recommendation is based on a number of factors, including a DOT survey that indicates 77 percent of respondents favor a high-rise structure to replace the 22.5 foot-high drawbridge that opened to motorists in 1956.

Other factors in the decision, said Piazza, were engineering data, costs and traffic flow.

The cost of a high-rise bridge was estimated at $102 million, about $30 million less than a drawbridge, Piazza said.

But the DOT has neither money nor a timetable for the project. There are no funds for engineering design or an environmental impact study on a new AMI Bridge in the Manatee-Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization’s current five-year master transportation plan.

DOT officials have indicated that, if the Coast Guard approves the recommendation, it would be a minimum of 10-12 years for a new bridge project to get under way. A more likely time frame is 15 to 20 years, Piazza said in March at the final public meeting on the bridge proposals.

Opponents of a high-rise bridge said the DOT announcement was not unexpected.

Save Anna Maria president Ursula Stemm said she was “disappointed,” in the DOT decision, but “I knew it was inevitable.”

Stemm said the organization, which fought against a similar high-rise bridge a decade ago, would again take up the fight.

“We’ve already spoken to our legal counsel and we have the same grassy bed issue as before. We are going to fight the DOT,” she said.

Stemm dismissed the 10-15 year timetable as irrelevant. “If it’s going to take that long, why did county commissioners go to Washington looking for money for a new bridge?” she asked.

SAM favors repairing the existing bridge as long as possible, Stemm said.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens, however, said public opinion polls show Islanders are overwhelmingly in favor of a high-rise bridge as a replacement.

“This project is still a long way off,” Haas-Martens said, “but 83 percent of the people said they wanted a replacement bridge and 77 percent said they wanted a high-rise bridge. The public is in favor of this and I believe the Island needs at least one high-rise bridge.

“We need a non-opening bridge for the Island that will have emergency lanes,” she said.