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Bridge plan makes me want to sing

When I think of the Fort Hamer Bridge project, it makes me think of the “Tennessee Waltz.”

No, not the lyrics:

“I was dancin’ with my darlin’ to the Tennessee Waltz

“When an old friend I happened to see.”

But the two steps forward, one step backward of the dance itself.

Manatee County commissioners are scheduled to adopt a resolution Tuesday that would authorize — no, not the singing of the Tennessee Waltz — the inking of a contract with URS Corporation Southern to design a bridge over the Manatee River at Fort Hamer. The amount would not exceed $2.9 million.

That qualifies as a step forward.

At the same time, county staff has been evaluating bids from eight companies interested in actually constructing the bridge.

Back in December, Herald reporter Duane Marsteller reported the county had tentatively reached a contract with URS for the bridge design and it had those eight construction bids in hand that it would be evaluating.

Duane also reported that the county had plans for a two-lane bridge that would be just 440 feet short of a half-mile long. The bridge would help connect Fort Hamer Road and Upper Manatee River Road.

Moreover, the bridge would provide a direct link between Parrish and Lakewood Ranch and provide a north-south alternative to Interstate 75. Maybe more importantly to folks in Parrish, it would give them faster access to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.

In checking our archives, I discovered that Duane has been writing about the Fort Hamer Bridge back-and-forth since at least January 2001. Even back then, the preferred route was where it remains today, but the bridge would have been four lanes, rather than two.

Along the way, however, bridge opponents persuaded the U.S. government that an environmental impact statement was required. After several years of futilely waiting for completion of that study, the county threw in the towel. Never mind the federal money, it would find another way to get the bridge built.

I have always said that I think the bridge is a good idea, and should be built sooner, rather than later. But I’m not convinced that I will see it in my lifetime.

I think about the Fort Hamer Bridge project, and I also think about a Linda Ronstadt song: “Long, Long Time.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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