In 110 days the Anna Maria Island Bridge will close to traffic for up to 45 days for major repairs and the impact on Island life will be profound. Here’s how local agencies are beginning their preparations.
SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD
A barge carries workers close to the
Anna Maria Island Bridge pilings Monday afternoon.
HOLMES BEACH – When Quinn Construction closes the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Sept. 29, life on the Island will change as people cope with the loss of a link to the mainland for up to 45 days.
Agencies on and off the Island have been planning for that closure, as the contractor rehabilitates the bridge’s moveable bascule, and they told a crowd of about 40 people at a pre-closure meeting last Thursday at St. Bernard Catholic Church that they’re ready.
Officials expect traffic tie-ups at Gulf Drive and Cortez Road, which will be the Island’s sole direct access to the mainland. The only other access would be to and from Longboat Key on the Longboat Pass Bridge.
Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said that they are telling people to leave early and plan on spending extra time on the road when they have to get to the mainland.
"We’re planning on having staggered hours for our staff so they aren’t all using the bridge at the same time," she said.
Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens said they are depending on their police to keep traffic moving on the Island. Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson had some advice for people.
"Be patient," he said. "We’re going to move you as best we can."
Some people at the meeting felt that the massive gridlock in Bradenton because of traffic being detoured off I-75 due to a truck accident and explosion that closed an overpass was an omen of things to come during the Island bridge closure. Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce recommended leaving our cars at home.
"The bus system has routes to and from the Island where people can connect with the free Island trolleys," he said. "If you have to drive, you should think about carpooling."
West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price said they would move more firefighting vehicles to the Island during the closure. He also spoke of his personnel.
"All of our employees live off the Island," he said. "We’re going to make our shift changes at earlier hours."
Mark Edenfield, of the Manatee County Department of Safety’s Emergency Medical Service, said they would make sure the Island was well staffed.
"We’re going to place a second response unit at the fire station," he said. "When one unit is busy, the second one will be ready and we’ll also ready a third unit to come out if that second one gets called."
Edenfield said they would make sure emergency cases get evacuated by air. He said they have as many as eight helicopters available in Manatee County.
One person said that she had friends who recommended renting motor scooters to get around the traffic jams. Lt. Stephenson had a warning, however.
"If you think you can go around cars or use the sidewalk with a motor scooter, you’re wrong," he said. "I wouldn’t recommend renting these scooters because you’ll still get stuck in the same jams as the cars."