MANATEE -- Getting back and forth over the Green Bridge between Palmetto and Bradenton will be easier this year during the Feb. 6 second annual Bradenton Area River Regatta.
According to event organizer Mike Fetchko, ISM-USA president, there will be a couple of different ways to get across the Manatee River to enjoy the planned festivities in both cities.
There will be two luxury Mercedes vans that hold up to 15 people each that will make a constant loop over the bridge in the dedicated southbound lane reserved for emergency use.
"These are top-of-the line deluxe Mercedes vans that are used to transport VIPs at events like the Super Bowl," said Fetchko. "They are state-of-the-art and they'll be doing a continuous loop from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. when they start clearing the bridge for the fireworks."
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Captain Tom Hanchett, of Riverside Tours Inc., will return with his 44-passenger Skipper II for water taxi service across the river. From 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Skipper II will sail between its home dock at the Riverhouse Reef & Grill and the Twin Dolphin Marina in Bradenton. It will then resume after the fireworks show, "until there is no one left to pick up," said Hanchett.
The vans across the bridge are free, but the water taxi service will cost $5 for two tickets. Last year, Hanchett sold all-day passes for $5, "but we ran into a problem with a lot of people not wanting to get off the boat. They just wanted to ride back and forth all day and people were lined up on both sides of the river wanting to get on the boat and they couldn't. So we couldn't do that again this year. They'll have to get off the boat."
Water taxi tickets will be available at the pickup and drop off points on both sides of the river.
Riverside Tours also will repeat last year's special fireworks tour offer for $20 per ticket, which can be ordered now online at riversidetoursinc.com.
Bicyclists will be allowed to ride their bikes over the bridge but only before 10 a.m., according to Bradenton Public Works Director Claude Tankersley.
"We are going to allow bicycles on the bridge and they can get to one side or the other, but they will not be allowed to ride bikes on the bridge during the race," said Tankersley. "They can still walk their bikes across, but there will be no riding from about 10 a.m. until after the races."
Green Bridge closures
The Green Bridge will close at 4 a.m. on Feb. 6 and is scheduled to reopen at 11 p.m. The bridge will be cleared about 4:15 p.m. of spectators and closed to everyone for the fireworks show, which is scheduled to start about 6:50 p.m. and last about 25 minutes. At that time, the bridge will be reopened to foot traffic for people to get back across the river to their vehicles. Cleaning of the bridge will begin shortly after and as soon as the bridge is cleaned, it will reopen to vehicle traffic.
Boaters will not have access to the race zone throughout the regatta. The Manatee River will be off limits during that time from the Green Bridge east to the railroad bridge. While boaters were unhappy with the limited view of the regatta from the river last year, the spectator zones for boats will not change this year.
"Regretfully, we were not able to change that for safety reasons," said Tankersley. "I know people were frustrated, but these boats are very powerful and the drivers are very skilled, but God forbid one of the boats lost control. We have to make sure no one is injured. I really admire the organizers for their focus on being safety first and secondly, ensuring this is a family-friendly event."
Bridge services available
There will be portable restrooms on the bridge this year and water will be sold. Spectators are asked not to do any kind of tailgating activities. Tankersley said last year, people tried to bring grills onto the bridge and stakeout large areas of the prime spectator viewing areas.
"It's very important people don't show up with grills and tents," he said. "Those will not be allowed on the bridge."
Space is at a premium and any additional equipment will only deny someone else a chance to enjoy the races. However, folding chairs and small coolers are acceptable.
ACT exams preparation
Family members of students taking their ACT exams on Feb. 6 should be aware that the Green Bridge will be closed. They are encouraged to leave early and use the DeSoto Bridge or the Interstate 75 bridge.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014