New Fort Hamer bridge construction could start next summer, official says

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 29, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- Construction on a new Fort Hamer Bridge could start this summer, the Manatee County public works director said Tuesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard is predicting completion of its final environmental impact statement and state and federal permitting in April, according to Ron Schulhofer, Manatee County public works director.

After the Coast Guard review and an official recording of its bridge project recommendation, the long approval process could be over, Schulhofer told the Manatee County Commission.

"It might be safe to say that construction could start in mid- to late summer," he said after the meeting.

The news was greeted in Parrish with joy by Ben Jordan, vice president of the Parrish Civic Association, near the site where the bridge would be built.

"I bet I get 10 inquiries a week: 'How's the bridge?'" said Jordan. "I think it's great."

The accident Monday on the overpass at Interstate 75 and University Parkway triggered a round of calls about the need for the new Fort Hamer Bridge from motorists trapped in traffic gridlock farther south on I-75, said Jordan.

"Three people called me from their cars, saying, 'If you had that dang bridge built, we wouldn't be in this mess,'" said Jordan. "I think it's just time we built it."

Last summer, roughly 400 people turned out for a public hearing about sites for a new Manatee River bridge, which does not have universal support.

June Stroup of Lakewood Ranch has been fighting against the bridge project since it was unveiled in 2000, she said. Stroup spoke as a citizen on the subject and not as chairwoman of Community Development District 1, she said.

"It's going to bring a great deal of traffic through Lakewood Ranch Boulevard through a residential community and it's not going to be good for the community in general," Stroup said. "The real problem is there is no real good alternative. It's going to happen. The commissioners were dead set in having their own way on this issue."

A new Fort Hamer Bridge connecting Upper Manatee

River Road to Fort Hamer Road was the preferred alternative for a new link over the river, according to a study prepared for Manatee County by San Francisco-based URS Corp.

The study concluded a new bridge would provide improved traffic flow and a better north-south route linking high-growth areas east of Interstate 75.

It called for connecting the existing, two-lane Upper Manatee River Road on the south to two-lane Fort Hamer Road on the north.

Marty Peate, URS senior project manager, estimated the Fort Hamer option will cost $30.2 million.

In 2009, county commissioners dusted off the 9-year-old bridge plan and voted to move ahead after a tanker truck crash and explosion destroyed I-75's southbound overpass at U.S. 301 in Ellenton, creating several days of gridlock in June 2008.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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