Light traffic made the commute a breeze during the first day of the AMI bridge closure.
SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Afternoon "rush hour" at Cortez Road and
Gulf Drive on Monday, the first day of the Manatee Avenue
bridge closure, was light, according to Bradenton Beach police
officer John Tsakiri, who kept a watchful eye on the intersection,
but did not direct traffic.
BRADENTON BEACH – The sun rose over the Anna Maria Island Bridge Monday, the first morning of the 45-day bridge closure, to reveal cloudy skies. To the south, traffic scurried across the Cortez Bridge, turning left and right onto Gulf Drive where Cortez Road ended. It was another day in paradise.
It wasn’t supposed to be. The loss of one of the Island’s two direct links to the mainland was supposed to have created a nightmare at the other.
Instead, it wasn’t nearly as busy as it normally is during season. Bradenton Beach Police officer John Tsakiri sat in his Ford Explorer cruiser, listening to the police radio. He was the first officer to be stationed there, available to help direct traffic during peak periods, but there was no opportunity during the morning rush hour. Traffic on Cortez Road from the village of Cortez to Gulf Drive was light at "rush hour" Monday morning, the first day of the bridge closure.
The police will monitor the situation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the first week and if their services are not needed, they will cut the coverage to rush hour only. Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said he was delighted at the first day’s results, but was reserving his optimism.
"I’m hoping that the amount of time the DOT (Florida Department of Transportation) first put out information on the closure and the amount of information they put out will help keep traffic down," he said.
Speciale, who lives in west Bradenton, said the right turn arrows at southbound 75th Street to Cortez Road westbound and from Cortez Road westbound and Gulf Drive northbound helped keep traffic flowing.
Holmes Beach officer Vern McGowin was parked at eastbound Manatee Avenue where it intersects with East Bay Drive. He monitored traffic toward the closed bridge. The stoplight had been reconfigured to allow maximum time for southbound traffic to turn west on Manatee Avenue. Cars would still be allowed to travel east on Manatee as far as Kingfish boat ramp.
"It was a non-event, which we like," said Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine. "We will continue to station a man at that intersection for a week and then re-evaluate whether we need him."
Buses on time
Because the traffic was so light, the school buses were on time, according to Anna Maria Elementary School Principal Tom Levengood, who lives in northwest Bradenton and took Cortez Road to work for the first time.
"All the lights were synchronized except the one at 119th and Cortez, which turned red and no cars came out of the side street," he said. "There was little traffic and, in fact, I arrived a little early today."
Kelley Ice takes a school bus from Anna Maria to Southeast High School.
"It didn’t take any longer than it normally does," she said.
Her mom, Dianne Ice, left Anna Maria for her job in Sarasota at 7:07 a.m. and arrived at work at the usual time, she said.
The shuttle to and from the Island and the trolleys on the Island all reported to be running on time, according to Manatee County Area Transit Director Ralf Heseler.
"We have not experienced any difficulty," he said.
Heseler clarified the situation about the shuttle. He said it is only free if you are transferring from Route 3 or Route 6. If you pick up the shuttle along the route or at Blake Hospital without showing a transfer, you will have to pay the regular fare of $1.25.
While the first day of the bridge closure was a snap, Speciale doesn’t expect it to remain that way.
"I don’t want to give people a false sense of security," he said, "If people who came to work early or late hear that the traffic was light during rush hour, they might change their pattern and there would be more cars on the bridge during that time."