MANATEE -- As the Anna Maria Island Bridge replacement project moves into the design phase this year, a committee will be formed to get community input on how the new high-level bridge should look.
The Florida Department of Transportation will form the Aesthetics Advisory Committee, which will include appointed members from groups including the city of Holmes Beach, Manatee County and the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
It will "gather community input on decorative features and amenities" of the project, which runs from State Road 789 (Gulf Drive) in Holmes Beach to Martinique Drive on Perico Island, according to a FDOT fact sheet. The bridge design is funded, but there is no funding yet for construction.
"We don't do it for every
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project," FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen said of the committee. "Some of the more higher-profile bridges like this, then we do this."
The high-level bridge design was determined through a project development and environment study, which included public involvement, Stublen said. It will replace a bridge constructed in 1957.
"The new fixed-span bridge will provide 65 feet of vertical clearance, allowing most vessels to pass under the structure without disrupting traffic on the bridge," the fact sheet states. "The project also includes improvements to (State Road) 64, including the addition of 10-foot sidewalks and 7-foot-wide bike lanes on both sides of the road."
The bridge will be built south of the existing bridge, according to Sage Kamiya, county deputy director of traffic management.
"The only question is what it is exactly going to look like?" Stublen said. "How is it going to look as far as aesthetics go when completed?"
While Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, who represents West Bradenton and Anna Maria Island, said he didn't want a high-level bridge, the bike lanes and the walkways will be a benefit.
"It is what it is," Chappie said. "That's going to be a nice plus for bikers, walkers and joggers to have that connectivity. ... It is going to give a safer connectivity from Perico to the island."
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said Wednesday the project is still a long way off.
"There's been a lot of people looking at this for a long time, and I leave that up to their decisions and their process of going through public input," he said.
Johnson said he hasn't heard many opinions from residents about the project because it's not visible yet.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former mayor of Holmes Beach who still lives in the city, said she wants the committee to look at aesthetics.
"I want the city to have the input," she said. "I'm hoping that's what they will do. The best way to get the public to support it is to get their input."
David Cheshire, a Holmes Beach resident, said he hasn't fully decided how to feel about the bridge project.
"I think it actually will not gain that much because you could have a 200-foot-high drawbridge with four lanes but, as soon as you get across the bridge onto the island, you're locked into two-lane roads," the 67-year-old said.
"The larger problem now is you just have the cars on the island. One thing they are looking at, which would help a little bit, is trying to get the bridge open every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes."
Cheshire said there are way more cars on the island than boats trying to pass by it.
"You have a small amount of people affecting a large amount of people," he said.
Chappie said officials have to address traffic along Manatee Avenue, Cortez Road and Gulf Drive.
"We have to be serious about it," he said.
Wider bike lanes and walkways on the bridge may encourage people to use other modes of transportation, which could alleviate some of the congestion, Chappie said.
"It leaves open other opportunities for residents and visitors alike to not use their cars," he said. "Hopefully, some day we will be able to expand the trolley system down Cortez and Manatee. That would be marvelous."
Holmes Beach Commission Vice Chairwoman Jean Peelen said she wasn't around when the decision was made to move forward with the project, but she did share her thoughts on the bridge as it is now.
"I am romantically attached to the low drawbridge," she said. "It's a romantic way to enter the island. ... I'd hate to see it go away."
A project development and environment study of a possible replacement for the Cortez Bridge is underway. Stublen said construction work on the bridges will not happen simultaneously.
In the design of the Cortez Bridge, Chappie said way too often historic communities are "negatively affected by road projects or bridges."
"The Village of Cortez has to be protected, and Bradenton Beach on the other end," he said.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.