PARRISH -- In spite of heavy rains last summer that bogged down construction -- 31 inches fell between June 1 and mid-September -- and a fire that destroyed a construction trailer in March, the Fort Hamer bridge now extends 550 feet into the Manatee River, and the pace of work seems to be quickening.
The southern edge of the bridge touches an island mid-stream between the north and south banks of the river.
Completion is forecast for summer 2017, marking the first time motorists will have a direct connecting route between Parrish and Lakewood Ranch.
The project is also a milestone of sorts for crane operator Paul "Pork Chop" Tkacs of Zephyrhills.
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Tkacs, 64, says this will be the last bridge project of his career, one that began 45 years ago and has taken him all over Florida and well beyond.
"I was working in Seattle when Mount Saint Helens blew up," Tkacs said.
He has lost count of the number of bridges he has worked on, but believes the number is well in excess of 100.
Never mind how many piles he has driven to support all those bridges.
Bridge building has taken him to Honduras, Trinidad, Walt Disney World, the Florida Sunshine Skyway Bridge and many other places.
Justin Hogan, an engineer on the project for contractor Johnson Brothers Corp. of Orlando, said caps will be poured Friday for Pier 13. Crews are also working on Pier 12, which brings the bridge to the edge of the island.
In all, the bridge will have 18 piers, plus two end bents, when completed, tying together Fort Hamer Road and Upper Manatee River Road.
"We will hit the island about June, and possibly the south shore of the river in December," Hogan said.
Crews have already started building retaining walls on the south shore of the river, he said.
When Johnson Brothers Corp. reaches Pier 9, it will mark the halfway point of the bridge.
Pier 9 will also feature a 16-by-5-foot observation deck for the pedestrian and bicycle friendly two-lane bridge.
Light poles went up along the northern approach to the bridge this week, and work on adding guardrails along the ramps is expected to begin next week.
The bridge ramp also has its first lift, or layer, of asphalt, with the final asphalt being added to all of Fort Hamer Road at project completion, Hogan said.
The 550 feet of bridge already completed also makes an extended work area for the construction crew and a space to place equipment and park vehicles, said project spokeswoman Trudy Gerena.
A replacement construction trailer was moved onto the site Thursday to replace the one that burned in March.
The fire is believed to have started due to a malfunction in the battery and charging area, Hogan said.
Although the trailer was destroyed, along with $50,000 of surveying equipment, engineering documents were safely stored in a fireproof safe and backed up digitally, Hogan said.
The price tag for the Fort Hamer Bridge and improvements to Fort Hamer Road and Upper Manatee River Road is $32.69 million.
The project has also fanned development in the Parrish and North River area with more than 23,000 homes approved for construction, or for which approvals are being sought.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or Twitter @jajones1.