Once again this week a large crowd of residents attended a meeting at the Bradenton Area Convention Center to air their views on a development project. The Coast Guard hosted Wednesday evening's gathering to collect public comments on a draft environmental impact statement that recommends the Fort Hamer Road site for a bridge across the Manatee River, rejecting two alternatives.
Most in the crowd of almost 400 people championed the Fort Hamer option over the Rye Road site and a "no build" alternative. No doubt Manatee County commissioners got that welcome message.
That stands in stark contrast to Tuesday's 12-hour marathon Manatee County commission hearing on the Long Bar Pointe project, in which the majority of the 1,000 participants most decidedly did not want the environmental impacts that the developers proposed.
Commissioners rejected the comprehensive plan text amendment in total and only approved the map amendment after the developers removed the boat basin, mangrove destruction and Sarasota Bay dredging from the proposal.
The county committed to a bridge connecting Fort Hamer Road and Upper Manatee River Road more than a decade ago after the concept first gained traction almost 45 years ago. Today, that's the only viable option -- especially considering cost.
In preparing a draft environmental impact study for Manatee County, URS Corp. came up with startling cost estimates. A two-lane Fort Hamer bridge project came in at $30.2 million, ballooning from a 2011 county estimate of $21 million.
But the Rye Road option, which would require the expansion of some 10 miles of existing roads from two to four lanes, would be prohibitively expensive at $80.8 million. That should make a final commission decision easy.
Public comments Wednesday night echoed previous points in the public discussion over a Fort Hamer bridge -- factors we have repeated on numerous occasions in support of this option.
One woman stated that during a cardiac emergency two years ago, the roundabout trek from her Parrish home to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center took a half-hour -- a lot of precious time when a life hangs in the balance.
One man recounted the birth of his oldest son the day after a tanker exploded in Ellenton on Interstate 75 and motorists were forced to take alternative routes because of the damage. In rushing his pregnant wife, then in labor, to Manatee Memorial Hospital, he had to drive an extra 20 miles.
Besides faster emergency response times, Fort Hamer provides an additional hurricane evacuation route and a quicker link to shopping, schools and recreation between communities north and south of the Manatee River.
While bridge opponents cite the environmental damage a Fort Hamer bridge entails, the URS study determined the "unavoidable impacts ... would be mitigated in accordance with federal and state permit requirements."
Fort Hamer bridge proponents in Parrish organized, established a website (www.forourbridge.com) and assembled petitions, submitting hundreds of signatures in March.
Their chartreuse T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "For our bridge" stood out as they crowded the convention center on Wednesday. We applaud their civic activism, and we commend site opponents for standing up for the views.
Bridge construction is a year or two away as the county awaits the Coast Guard applies public comments to a final environmental impact statement before obtaining the proper permits.
The Coast Guard will continue to gather public comments until Aug. 19. To submit a comment, go to regulations.gov; call 202-493-2251; send mail to: Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20590-0001; or call the docket management facility at 202-366-9329. Information: forthamerbridge.com.