By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer
HOLMES BEACH – State Representative Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, wanted to make sure Florida Department of Highways officials knew how he feels about the Anna Maria Island Bridge, so he went to the top.
Galvano invited Florida Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos to tour the bridge to get a first-hand look at where the state will spend $9.1 million this year to give it 10 more years of service. He also lobbied for a new bridge as soon as possible.
"I hate the thought of spending nearly $10 million to fix the bridge for 10 years," he said. "We need to do something now, and $50 to $75 million for a new bridge is not in the cards for the next session or probably the one after that."
Galvano said Kopelousos indicated she would try to speed up the process of finding a replacement for the drawbridge.
"She said she thought she could start the process to where it might come together to replace it in 10 years," he said. "If we could agree on an outside date, then we’d have a goal to work toward."
Galvano said that Kopelousos was very apologetic about how FDOT handled announcing the yearlong rehabilitation that starts in a week and will close the bridge for 45 days. When FDOT made the announcement, it said that the closure would be for 75 days during a period when tourism is customarily still strong. Island businesses, residents and their political leaders protested, forcing FDOT to renegotiate with the contractor to shorten the closure and move it back to a time when business is slowest. It was later disclosed that FDOT knew about the closure long before it told the Island.
"She said that the communication wasn’t there," Galvano said. "She promised that something like that would never happen again."
FDOT District One Secretary Stan Cann accompanied Kopelousos. After walking out onto the bridge in the cold wind, the group returned to their vehicles to attend a luncheon in Palmetto to discuss highway and bridge funding. Kopelousos told the crowd that her department is actively seeking alternative ways for financing construction projects since the gasoline tax that funds them now is decreasing as people drive more fuel efficient vehicles.