Fort Hamer Bridge construction nears after U.S. Corps of Engineers sends permit

Permit issued for construction of Fort Hamer Bridge, officials say

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 24, 2014 

MANATEE -- A permit from the U.S. Army for construction of the Fort Hamer Bridge was granted Tuesday, officials said.

Manatee County was notified the permit had been granted and work might begin immediately, although officials still need a permit from at least one other agency -- the U.S. Coast Guard -- before construction can start.

"The Coast Guard was waiting mainly on this U.S. Army permit to issue their permit," said Sia Mollanazar, county deputy director of public works.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District has already granted a bridge permit, according to Nancy Sticht, a spokeswoman for the Corps.

Bridge design is 90 percent complete. The structure would cost an estimated $22 million to build, Mollanazar told the Herald earlier this month.

The Corps of Engineers permit requires the county notification when work begins, and to provide dates of work suspensions and resumptions if suspended more than a week and the date of final completion, according to a copy of the permit and an accompanying letter.

The letter was signed by Donald Kinard, the Corps chief of the regulatory division, who also noted the Corps is responsible for inspections to determine whether permit conditions have been followed.

A copy of the permit went to Kent Bontrager, project manager for the Manatee County Public Works Department, according to the letter.

The proposed bridge would span the Manatee River and connect two existing roads: Upper Manatee River Road on the river's south side and Fort Hamer Road on its north shore.

"Like many, I'm very anxious to see construction starting," said Ben Jordan, president of the Parrish Civic Association, based nearby in Parrish, near where the bridge will be built.

Jordan said the Corps "made what I think is the right decision."

"I've always thought it's a public safety issue: It gives more evacuation routes, provides all the things the public safety issue is about, ...the people who live in Fort Hamer Road don't have a way out, and now they've got another exit," said Jordan.

Asked if he was hearing much opposition to the bridge's construction, Jordan said: "People against it are resigned it's going to happen. The biggest thing I hear is: 'You mean that thing isn't built yet?'"

Phyllis Troy, a supervisor for Lakewood Ranch Community Development District No. 1, predicted traffic nightmares near her Summerfield home once the bridge is done.

"I wish I had the time or energy to do petitions," said Troy. "With that damn bridge, there'll be tenfold traffic come down there, and it'll be impossible to make a left turn when you're going north at Summerfield Boulevard. They had better really think quickly about the left turn green arrows at Summerfield Boulevard. As it is now, it backs up at 5-6 p.m."

The Coast Guard completed its environmental impact statement and a construction permit should be issued soon, the Herald reported earlier this month.

Two related projects -- improvements to Upper Manatee River Road from State Road 64 to the future bridge, and Fort Hamer Road from what will be the north end of the bridge landing to U.S. 301 -- could start sooner, before the end of this year.

A study prepared for Manatee County by San Francisco-based URS Corp. last year recommended the link from Upper Manatee River Road to Fort Hamer Road as the preferred alternative.

The study concluded a new bridge would improve traffic flow and provide a better north-south route linking high-growth areas east of Interstate 75. In 2009, county commissioners reactivated a 9-year-old bridge plan 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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