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Date of Issue: May 24, 2007

Safety committee has concerns about Anna Maria Bridge

After two deaths in the past 13 months from vehicles crashing through the railing on the Anna Maria Island Bridge and plunging into the waters below, the Manatee County Community Traffic Safety Team has some concerns about bridge safety.

At its May 15 meeting, committee members agreed to ask the Florida Department of Transportation for a copy of its planned 2008 renovation project and to request that the committee be allowed to provide input on safety for the project.

A major issue appears to be that the guardrails are neither high enough or strong enough to contain a vehicle that hits it at a high rate of speed, said CTST member Arlon Cummings. In addition, there are no emergency lanes on the bridge.

CTST member Lt. Dale Stephenson of the Holmes Beach Police Department noted that a third accident in early May took out a 20-foot section of bridge railing, but the vehicle spun back into a traffic lane. There were no serious injuries in that crash.

The Florida Highway Patrol said alcohol was involved in all three of the aforementioned accidents.

Committee members agreed that, while they have concerns for the safety of the current bridge, any discussion of a new bridge should come from Island elected officials.

Ten years ago, Islanders rejected a DOT plan for a 65-foot-clearance, fixed-span bridge and the DOT eventually withdrew the proposal after a lengthy court battle with supporters of the current structure and a judgment against the planned construction.

Cummings said he would speak to Ron Lusk of the DOT about the renovation project, but it was his understanding that the DOT planned no major changes to the bridge. The upcoming project does not include installation of safer railings.

"Still, I think we would like to know what they are doing," said Stephenson, and the committee agreed.

At the time it withdrew the proposal for a fixed-span bridge, the DOT said that eventually the current structure would have to be replaced by a high-rise bridge, but that the present bridge could last another 20 to 30 years with proper maintenance.


DOT says safety not an issue in renovation project

By Rick Catlin. Islander Reporter

The Florida Department of Transportation said the safety features of the Anna Maria Island Bridge will not be addressed in the $10 million renovation project expected to begin in 2008.

"Safety is not an issue in this project," said William Thomas of the DOT’s Bartow office.

He acknowledged that two people have died the past 13 months on the bridge when the vehicle they were traveling in crashed through the guardrail and plunged into Anna Maria Sound.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to those families," Thomas said, but in each accident, alcohol and excessive speed were involved.

The bridge guardrails are designed to stop a vehicle doing 50 mph, the speed limit on the bridge, he said. "Above that, we can’t foresee what excessive speed will do. Over 50 mph, our safety features don’t help" when a vehicle strikes the guardrail.

Reducing the speed limit won’t stop people from drinking and driving their vehicles at a high rate of speed on the bridge, he said. The Florida Highway Patrol has indicated that a lower speed limit on the bridge won’t have much effect at 2 a.m., when a drunk driver travels the bridge.

Meanwhile, the DOT is not ignoring the community. Thomas said that while the DOT currently has no plans to change the speed limit, it has been asked by local elected officials to review the current 50-mph limit.

And Islanders shouldn’t expect to see any DOT plans for a fixed-span, high-rise bridge in the near future.

"It’s not in our long-range plans," he said.

Ten years ago, when the DOT proposed a high-rise, fixed-span bridge with emergency lanes, Islanders rejected the proposal, and lobbied to keep the old bridge.

"It was what they wanted," Thomas said.

The current bridge should last for another 15 to 20 years after the renovation project, he said. Any request for a new bridge should come initially from Island residents and elected officials, not the DOT, he concluded.