MANATEE -- The U.S. Coast Guard has granted Manatee County "advance approval" for a proposed bridge over the Braden River, exempting county officials from obtaining its bridge permit, and speeding construction of the 44th Avenue Roadway Project between Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
"It'll save between six months and as much as a year on the design and permitting," said Kent Bontrager, project engineer for the Manatee County Public Works Department.
County officials are working with their consultant, URS, for estimates on scope and cost of the project, he said Friday.
Construction on the $33 million Braden River Bridge could begin in 30 months if all goes well, Bon
trager said, depending on how long it takes to get environmental permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Also speeding toward construction is the $22 million Fort Hamer Bridge.
The bridge will 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.
Bontrager hopes to have a contractor and an approved contract from the county commission that would permit construction to begin on it at the end of February or early March.
"I'm working hard; it's a goal of mine," Bontrager added.
Meanwhile, the Braden River Bridge proposal calls for a 1,500-foot, four-lane bridge that will cross the river about 4.3 miles south of its confluence with the Manatee River in the vicinity of 44th Avenue.
The design will call for what is considered a "low-span" structure -- similar to the bridges that cross the river at State Roads 64 and 70, said Bontrager.
The bridge will be a similar height to the others, he said, adding, "We don't want to go any lower, we don't want to affect recreational boating."
Loretto Sadkin, a resident of Peridia Golf & Country Club, said her homeowners' group had urged that advanced approval be given in order to speed up construction and get the project finished.
"Our concern is, if they don't get the permitting and construction done and the bridge, too, 45th Street would become a major highway," she said.
Existing bridges along State Roads 64 and 70 were previously granted advance approvals, but such approval "does not relieve the county of the responsibility to ensure compliance with applicable federal, state or local laws and regulations for the proposed project," said a letter from the Coast Guard sent to nearby residents.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.