Manatee County official: Fort Hamer Bridge construction goal is early 2015

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 30, 2014 

0804_BRLO_bridge

Vehicles cross the Manatee River using the Rye Road Bridge. Opponents to the Fort Hamer Bridge are proposing using this site to link north and south Manatee County. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends a new bridge linking Fort Hamer Road on the north with the Upper Manatee River Road on the south. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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PARRISH -- By September, final design plans for a new Fort Hamer Bridge should be complete, and county officials hope to begin construction in early 2015.

Kent Bontrager, project manager for the Manatee County Public Works Department, said Monday he expects to advertise the project for bidding in October or November.

"My goal is to begin construction early 2015, and I am estimating construction to be between 24 and 30 months," he wrote in an email.

One resident Monday expressed mixed feelings about the bridge coming over a pristine section of Manatee River, while a couple of businesspeople in the area said they were looking forward to increased commercial activity from thousands of motorists crossing the completed bridge.

Parrish resident Anthony Pipino, 39, a teacher, was enjoying the sound of birdsong Monday and the sigh of his paddle where Fort Hamer Road now deadends overlooking the river.

Sometime next year, the same peaceful spot will become a huge construction site as the county starts building the new bridge.

"I feel 50-50," said Pipino about a giant bridge coming across the river. "I understand why they've got to do it."

Pipino said he would love to be able to drive to and from Lakewood Ranch directly across the river but he also acknowledged his leisurely stand-up paddle on the now-peaceful river will change.

There was no such mixed sentiment among businesspeople interviewed Monday: They say they look forward to the increased traffic and commercial growth thousands of motorists using the new

bridge will produce.

"Oh, I love it because I've got a pizza shop, and I'm going to expand my delivery area to the other side of the bridge," said James Zimmers, owner of Raven Pizza, 8255 U.S. 301, about 3 miles from where the bridge will come ashore on the north side of the river at Fort Hamer Road.

"I'm all for it," he added. "I like it. I think it'll be good when it goes through."

Zimmers plans to add two more drivers to the two he now employs, he said.

Also looking forward to increased traffic was Thomas Brown, a real estate broker-salesman for Wagner Realty.

"I'm very optimistic we'll see an uptick soon," he said. "I just think the increased traffic in the Parrish area is going to be very positive for commercial development."

Brown said, however, he is not yet seeing any uptick.

"It's been on hold for so long, with all the delays," said Brown. "I can remember 25 to 30 years ago, there was going to be a bridge there. I think we're finally going to see it. It's been a long haul."

Bontrager said he had received a permit necessary for the bridge's construction Friday via U.S. Postal Service from the U.S. Coast Guard just days after a similar permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived.

The two permits constituted the final regulatory approvals necessary for the bridge to be built, officials said last week.

Construction of such a bridge has been discussed off and on for almost 40 years.

The bridge spanning the Manatee River will connect Upper Manatee River Road on the south and Fort Hamer Road on the north.

Plans call for a single-span bridge costing more than $20 million with two lanes, one in each direction.

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

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