A mere four decades in the making, a critical transportation corridor in East Manatee is finally on track. The Fort Hamer Bridge leaped the last two hurdles with permit approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard over the past 12 days.
Manatee County now expects to begin construction early next year and open the span 24 to 30 months later. Transportation impact fees -- not property taxes -- will pay for the $21 million to $23 million project.
Public convenience, safety
Completion cannot come fast enough. With the big-time growth in Lakewood Ranch, Parrish and elsewhere in East Manatee, the rising population and business interests need greater mobility.
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The general convenience, namely in time and gas savings, will be a regular occurrence. But the increase in public safety is immeasurable -- with faster emergency response times and a new hurricane evacuation route.
And another way around a different disaster. Should another horrific vehicle accident force the closure of the Interstate 75 bridge over the Manatee River in Ellenton, as occurred in 2008, then some traffic can be rerouted to the Fort Hamer Bridge.
The tanker truck crash and explosion destroyed part of the bridge, and motorists overwhelmed downtown Bradenton and Palmetto trying to get over the river and back on their way. Nobody wants to experience that again.
The economic factor
The business community stands to profit handsomely from this bridge as the long-awaited infrastructure improvement will no doubt boost economic development.
With numerous real estate projects moving forward -- both commercial and residential -- and established businesses looking forward to more traffic and customers -- the Fort Hamer Bridge could be a linchpin to the county's future economic health.
The growth trend is already remarkable with the county recently reporting more than 2,000 new homes joined the tax rolls in 2014.
Span foes dwindle
The once fierce opposition kept stalling progress on the Fort Hamer Bridge, but that ebbed in recent years as more and more foes accepted the necessity of a connection between Upper Manatee Road on the south and Fort Hamer Road to the north.
Waterlefe residents, facing major impacts from a bridge adjacent to their neighborhood, fought the good fight but then joined the design process some three years ago to ensure input and mitigate potential problems. Kudos to them, as we've opined in the past.
The county deserves another pat on the back, too, for engaging the public time and time again to stem adversarial relationships. The transparent outreach efforts helped ease public misgivings.
All of this history is important to the realization of how critical the Fort Hamer Bridge is on many different levels. And how far the county's come in more than four decades of planning.