AMI Bridge rehab project almost done

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — A bridge project whose beginnings brought cries of protest is about to end on a much quieter note.

Work on a $11.5 million rehabilitation of the Anna Maria Island bridge is scheduled to end Monday, 400 days after it began amid widespread anxiety about a planned closure of the drawbridge.

That closure lasted just 38 days, and the feared traffic jams and loss of island business failed to materialize.

“It totally wasn’t as bad as everybody thought it would be,” said Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former Holmes Beach mayor. “They did a really great job of keeping to the schedule.”

The project’s schedule was the subject of public uproar before work started in February 2008.

Although the Florida Department of Transportation knew for years the work would close the bridge to traffic, it didn’t notify local officials about it until just six months before a planned 75-day closure was set to begin from April to June. That led to an outcry from local officials and island business owners, who said it would economically cripple the island.

The tumult caused FDOT to shorten the closure to 45 days and schedule it for later in the year. The bridge closed Sept. 29 and reopened Nov. 6, a week ahead of schedule and earning Quinn Construction Inc. a $625,000 bonus.

In hindsight, it was much ado about nothing, some business owners say.

“It didn’t make that much of a difference,” Cortez Market owner Lou Nassar. “You had heavier-than-usual traffic once in a while, but not jams. What they did worked out very good.”

That largely was the result of coordinated planning in preparation for the closure, officials said.

FDOT lengthened “green time” on traffic signals along the detour route to keep traffic moving. Fire-rescue officials stationed more equipment and personnel at island stations. The school district adjusted bus routes and schedules. Manatee County Area Transit beefed up its island service. Drivers gave themselves more time to reach their destinations.

“We had a lot of help from the community — from the police officers to the elected officials and mayors and the public at large,” said Audrey Clarke, the project’s public information officer. “It took a lot of coordination, but it paid off. We’re definitely glad it’s over and we finished it on time.”

The project included repairing and smoothing out the road surface; replacing the metal decking on the leaves; reconditioning the mechanical system; replacing the electrical system; and repairing pilings and giving them additional protection against corrosion. The south sidewalk should reopen no later than Tuesday, Clarke said.

FDOT officials say the work will extend the 52-year-old bridge’s lifespan by 10 to 15 years.

Whitmore says the project will have another long-term benefit: a greater FDOT emphasis on communication.

“It improved our relationship even more with FDOT,” she said. “We did have a good relationship before, but there was a miscommunication. I think they realize it now.”

Duane Marsteller, reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.