The FDOT announces that repair work will close the Anna Maria Island Bridge to all traffic for as long as 75 straight days next spring.
SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD
By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer
Island officials and business leaders were in disbelief this weekend after learning that the Anna Maria Island Bridge will be closed for a maximum of 75 days during the bridge rehabilitation.
"Debbie Hunt, of the Florida Department of Transportation, called me Friday and told me about it and asked me to poll the Island mayors to see when would be the best time to do it," Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. "The mayors said it would have to be sometime after Easter because they want to have it open by July 4. It will be an inconvenience, but we have to do it."
Others reacted more strongly.
"It’s a logistic and economic disaster for the Island," Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger declared. "Shutting it down is so impractical. Look at the traffic that goes off the Island in the morning and comes on the Island in the evening. I don’t think it can be done."
AMI Chamber President Mary Ann Brockman said she also found out about the closure on Friday and stressed, "Not having a voice in this is unconscionable. After what they’ve done to the businesses on the Island with taxes and insurance, and now they’re cutting the season down. People can’t make a living."
"The type of work requires closure," said Cindy Clemmons-Adente, DOT public information director.. "There’s no safe way to do this work and keep it open. We have to look at the best, safest and fastest way to do it. There are incentives in the contract to get it done sooner."
Audrey Clarke, DOT’s public information officer for this project, explained, "They are rehabbing the machinery that opens and closes the bridge. When they take the gears out, there will be no way to move the bridge up and down. It will be in a locked open position."
She said the bridge can’t be locked down because of Coast Guard regulations to maintain boat traffic.
Clemmons-Adente said she talked to both Whitmore and Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann on Friday to find an acceptable start date, and that date will be sometime between April 1 and 15, 2008.
If closure starts April 1, the end of the 75 days would be June 14, and if it starts April 15, the end of the 75 days would be June 29. Hurricane season starts June 1.
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie pointed out, “The economy is bad enough. They don’t need to be taking six weeks out of our tourist season.”
The rehabilitation project actually begins Jan. 7, 2008, and is slated to last 18 months, but the closing of the bridge would not start until April. As to whether there will be intermittent lane closures during the rest of the project, Clarke said they are allowed in the contract, but they would be after hours.
Regarding a contingency plan for emergencies or a hurricane, Clarke said the contractor must submit a hurricane plan, but the DOT won’t have it until January.
West Manatee Fire Rescue District Chief Andy Price said that the closure would eliminate any response to the Island from the mainland.
"We will look at additional manning on the Island and we’ll have to find money to hire extra guys," Price said. "EMS will have to do something, too. We’ll have to sit down and talk with the other agencies."
A spokesperson for Manatee County EMS said Chief Mark Edenfield plans to hold a meeting with Island officials about the issue.
DOT officials have known about the 75-day closure since planning and design for the rehabilitation began two years ago, Clemmons-Adente said.
"Now that we’re getting ramped up for the job, we’re notifying local officials,’ she explained.
Clarke said there would be a public meeting on the Island regarding the project in January.