BRADENTON -- Orange construction fence surrounds heavy machinery in a staging area just south of the 17th Avenue West bridge in the Historic Wares Creek neighborhood.
The bridge sits in the shadow of a large track hoe that will be used to tear it out starting Friday, as workers begin the last of four new bridges within the neighborhood as part of the ongoing $52.7 million Wares Creek flood control project.
Motorists using 17th Avenue West will have to find an alternate route and continue to avoid the bridge crossing until replacement is complete sometime in November.
"Basically, the existing bridge is going to be demolished and a new bridge similar to the recently completed bridges we've already done will be put in its place," said Jim McClellan, manager of the engineering section for the city of Bradenton.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been widening and dredging Wares Creek as the focal point of the flood control project.
To ensure the creek can handle water flow, the old bridges over the creek had to be replaced to prevent it from becoming a choking point.
The other new bridges are at Ninth, 12th and 14th avenues west.
"The new bridge, like the others, will have a wider opening to help with flood relief," said McClellan. "It's the last of four bridges the city is completing as part of an overall improvement project."
The $52.7 million project is being funded through a variety of resources and agencies including the City of Bradenton, Manatee County, the Corps, Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The city's share of the project focuses on the bridges, which cost $1.7 million each to replace. SWFWMD provided 50 percent in matching funds, and the city is paying the rest with a low-interest state revolving fund loan.
The dredging portion of Wares Creek was completed last year, and the Corps has been concentrating on the creek-widening phase.
According to a Manatee County quarterly report dated Jan. 10, the widening portion of the project began with Phase 1 at the Manatee Avenue Bridge with dredging south to Ninth Street West. It is listed as completed, and the project is now well into Phase II and partially into Phase III.
Phase I also included the removal of 37,000 cubic yards of muck that, over years of silt infiltration, had transformed into a mangrove island near Virginia Drive. According to Corps spokesperson Susan Jackson, 50,000 cubic yards of muck and debris have been removed from Wares Creek to date through dredging efforts, as well as the widening work.
The widening of Wares Creek has now moved up to 17th Avenue West, which is the official starting point of Phase II, and will continue to 21st Avenue West. Phase III of the project takes the widening efforts from 21st Avenue West to its eventual completion near Cortez Road.
Jackson noted that Phase II is two months behind schedule, but should be completed in May. The overall completion date is now estimated in October.
"We are behind, but a contractor for the third phase has been hired and will be mobilizing soon," said Jackson.
McClellan said the nature of the creek itself is why the project became necessary.
"Wares Creek is more of a drainage canal than it is a navigable waterway," said McClellan. "So that makes it subject to frequent flooding, which really became a problem as a result of the DeSoto mall at the creek's headwaters. Whenever it rains, the runoff from all that pavement pours into the creek, which responds quickly. Historically, there is flooding."
The creek has filled with debris and silt over the years, McClellan said, but the project will restore the creek's capacity to handle a lot of water. In conjunction, so will the bridge replacements.
"The bridge projects are to minimize water flow restrictions because each bridge acts as a pinch point," he said. "So improving the water flow character through the bridges facilitates better water flow character in the creek.
"We've seen some improvement already," McClellan added. "The bridge replacements, the dredging and the removal of the mangrove island, in particular, has improved water flow character in general."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.