PARRISH -- Project manager Tom Charles took in the panoramic view of the Manatee River from atop the Fort Hamer Bridge on Thursday morning, and admitted to feeling good about the progress of the project that will link Lakewood Ranch and Parrish, and give Manatee County another much-need north-south corridor.
About one-fifth completed with 400 feet of two-lane concrete decking and sidewalks poured from the north terminus to pier 16, the bridge now arches toward an island in midstream, where it will eventually touch down before curving toward Upper Manatee River Road on the south shore.
There will be an overlook from the bridge over the island where walkers and joggers will be able to pause and "observe nature," Charles said.
Charles was feeling optimistic about the project not only for what has been accomplished, but for persevering through heavy rains that early on turned the construction site into a quagmire.
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"This has been a big month for Manatee County, the public and the contractor," Charles said. "We have had our challenges."
Despite the challenges, the $32.69 million project, including improvements to Fort Hamer Road and Upper Manatee River Road, should be completed by early 2017.
Kent Greene, a retiree who lives in the River Wilderness neighborhood, likes to ride his bike to Fort Hamer Park and film videos of the construction, which he uploads to YouTube.
"I think it is really going well. They have great weather now. A lot of this is luck," Greene said Thursday.
Workers should reach the south shore of the Manatee River by January 2017, Trudy Gerena, project spokeswoman said.
When completed, the bridge will have 19 piers -- vertical supports for the bridge deck, or driving surface. So far, four piers are completed with the fifth to be poured by month's end when the contractor pauses for the Christmas holiday, before returning Jan. 4.
Before long, construction workers will be able to drive on the portion of road deck that has been completed, which will assist with the project.
Improvements to Fort Hamer Road are nearing completion with the first lift of asphalt being poured from Britt Road to Williams Elementary School. The left turn lanes from the road to the school have been completed, but the right turn lane will have to wait until spring break, Charles said.
The new turn lanes are expected to alleviate some of the traffic congestion at the school.
The final asphalt for Fort Hamer Road won't be poured until the bridge is near completion. Other improvements include street lighting, bike lanes, a sidewalk and turn lanes at the north and south approaches.
Manatee County broke ground on the project in March.
Johnson Brothers Corp. of Hillsborough County was awarded the contract for the project in February.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.