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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | County ready to vote on Fort Hamer Bridge contract

MANATEE — Manatee County commissioners will vote Tuesday on an almost $3 million contract with an engineering firm for design of a new bridge over the Manatee River.

California-based URS Southern Corp. was picked to provide the design for the Fort Hamer Bridge, which will connect Upper Manatee Road south of the river to Fort Hamer Road on the north.

Ron Schulhofer, the county’s public works director, said URS was selected from several bidders.

“It’s important the bridge get built,” Schulhofer said. “We all got a wake-up call when the bridge on I-75 burned (in June 2008) and we had no alternative across the river except for U.S. 41 and the Green Bridge.

“It’s a matter of the health, safety and welfare of the public,” he said. “We need to be able to respond with fire, law enforcement and EMS.”

Plans call for a 2,200-foot-long, two-lane bridge with 10-foot-wide shoulders on both sides and a five-foot-wide sidewalk on one side.

Commissioner Larry Bustle said he supports the bridge project because the county needs better north-south traffic corridors.

“We have relatively good east-west roads,” Bustle said, “but our north-south is kind of limited.”

He said he remembers his father, Lawrence Bustle, who was a county commissioner in the 1950s, always saying how the county needed another bridge across the Manatee River.

“I only began to appreciate his view when I became a commissioner,” Bustle said of his father, who died in 1999.

The Florida Department of Transportation began studying the need for another bridge across the Manatee River more than a decade ago.

When the Upper Manatee-Fort Hamer roads site was chosen, many area residents were opposed because plans called for the span to be six lanes, with both approaching roads also being widened.

Rising costs and delays because of federal and state funding requirements brought the county commissioners to decide last May to reduce the size and build the bridge with local monies.

Schulhofer said the funding for the bridge will come from a 2004 transportation bond the county has and road impact fees.

During the time the design standards were being developed and the final negotiations with URS, the costs dropped from $3.3 million to $2.9 million, which is 14.6 percent of the total estimated cost of $19.9 million for construction.

The date for final design completion is under nego- tiation, but while the engineering is in progress a con- struction manager will be working with URS to develop the final cost of the bridge.

“We’ll also break up the bids for construction so more local folks have more opportunities for jobs,” Schulhofer said.