Bridge vs. sailors: Call it a draw
|U.S. Coast Guard Bridge Management Specialist Michael Lieberum listens to public comment March 29 on the proposed change to the opening times for the Cortez and Anna Maria drawbridges.
The U.S. Coast Guard meeting March 29 in Holmes Beach to hear public
comment on a proposal to change the daily on-demand opening times of
the Anna Maria and Cortez bridges drew the expected pros and cons on
sailors who use the Intracoastal Waterway, lined up
against the proposal, citing safety issues with holding
their sailboats in often tricky currents while waiting
an additional 10 minutes as proposed for a drawbridge
however, countered that the time changes - from
every 20 minutes on demand to every 30 minutes - would
alleviate much of the traffic congestion, particularly
in Bradenton Beach, when the Cortez Bridge is raised
every 20 minutes when needed.
U.S. Coast Guard
Bridge Management Specialist Michael Lieberum said
the meeting was only to take public input before making
a final recommendation, expected in about 30 days.
lobbying by the three Island cities and Longboat Key,
the USCG agreed last summer to a proposal from the
Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials that
the bridge opening times be changed to every half-hour
on demand when a sailboat appears instead of the current
also includes a "curfew" time for no bridge
openings between 7:35 a.m. and 8:29 a.m. daily and
4:35 to 5:29 p.m. daily.
looking for constructive criticism," said Lieberum. "The
proposal is for seven days a week, but that may not
be the final answer." Curfew hours may mean nothing
He got plenty
of input, both for and against the initiative.
resident and sailor Tony Webb said the extra 10-minute
wait "means nothing" to a boater.
He said he's
been in his sailboat waiting for the drawbridge to
go up and seen up to 100 cars, often more, waiting
on a sailboat with just two people on board.
have somewhere to go. When you're sailing, you
don't have too many cares, he noted.
If a sailor is
in such a big hurry that waiting another 10 minutes
for the bridge to go up is an inconvenience, they shouldn't
be out in a sailboat, he maintained.
to a boater is nothing," he concluded.
Not quite, said
Holmes Beach resident Bob Jorgensen, who is also a
weather is bad, you have to use the Intracoastal and
you can't wait too long for the bridge," he
Capt. Matt Fisher. "There's a safety issue
involved." Sailboats can't "just
sit idle while waiting for the bridge to open. They
have to keep moving and the currents around the two
bridges, particularly the Cortez Bridge in rough weather,
create a problem for the sailor."
the proposed bridge opening times found a willing ally
in Connie Collings, the supervisor of the bridge tenders
for the Anna Maria, Cortez and Longboat Pass bridges.
She said changing
the opening times will sometimes create a backup of
10 or 11 sailboats waiting to go through the bridge
on one opening. "This will be very unsafe," she
said the proposed curfew hours are not needed. Her
log books for opening times show only 12 openings for
the three bridges in February between 7 a.m. and 8
a.m. and two of those were on a weekend.
Sailor Joe Jackson
suggested a "task force" of both sides
of the issue be created to come up with an acceptable
the big deal? asked Holmes Beach resident Joseph Callahan.
The problem is only 60 days a year during February
Maybe, said Longboat
Key Town Commissioner Jeremy Whatmough, but his drive
to Holmes Beach that day was a perfect example of the
He said it took
him an hour to traverse the seven miles from his Longboat
Key home to Holmes Beach because the Cortez Bridge
went up, backing up traffic on already congested Gulf
Drive and over the Longboat Pass Bridge.
the problem is not only the bridge opening times, it's
all the growth in eastern Manatee and Sarasota counties.
During the season,
everyone wants to come to the barrier islands. Add
the winter visitors to the increased number of residents
heading to the islands, combined with the bridge-opening
times, and you have a traffic mess.
bridge opening times won't "solve all the
problem, but will be a step forward," he said.
Well, you can't
have it both ways, said Jorgensen. High-rise bridges
are the norm along Florida's Intracoastal Waterway,
everywhere except Anna Maria, he said.
Donald Leeb of Cortez.
The problem is
there are no high-rise bridges to the Island, thanks
to political pressure from Islanders when the Florida
Department of Transportation proposed such a measure
10 years ago, he said.
The Island cities
and Longboat Key are "asking for time changes
on the bridges, but fought against high-rise bridges.
You can't have it both ways. The biggest problem
is the Cortez-Gulf Drive traffic light," Leeb
resident Joan Perry said the problem is not the bridges,
it's that too many cars are being driven on roads
not designed to handle all that traffic.
of the Manatee Sailing Association said the 1,000-plus
members of her organization are opposed to the changes
and presented data from the Florida Department of Transportation
that said the proposed bridge opening times would only
save motorists an average of two minutes per day.
The bridge opening
times are not inconveniencing the driving public, it's
the traffic, she maintained.
question, said boater Richard Pagano, is "Who
is to be inconvenienced the most?" The boater
who is struggling to maintain his or her position in
the water under difficult conditions, or the motorists
who can sit safely on the bridge while waiting for
traffic to clear?
Mayor John Chappie and Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore
both said their respective city commissions are in
favor of the proposal.
Commissioner George Spoll had planned to speak at the
meeting, but was delayed nearly 90 minutes due to the
traffic backup from Cortez Road south on Gulf Drive
and across the Longboat Pass Bridge. He arrived just
as the meeting ended.
that he and his staff would listen to the comments
and give a recommendation on any possible changes to
the proposal in about 30 days. He did not rule out
just having the bridge opening time change during the
consider every suggestion," he said.
whatever the Coast Guard's final decision is, "I
hope it results in the greatest good for the greatest
number of people."
Until Lieberum returns
with a final decision, call the meeting a draw.