Once upon a time, there were plans to put a six-lane high-rise bridge across the Manatee River at Fort Hamer.
The reasoning was that motorists needed an alternative to overburdened Interstate 75. Not just for convenience, but as a matter of life and death when an accident snarls traffic there, or when an approaching hurricane requires tens of thousands of people to get out of town.
In effect, a bridge at Fort Hamer would also connect Parrish and Lakewood Ranch, not a bad thing for East Manatee residents wanting to get from one place to the other, saving time, gas and money.
Back in 2001, officials were saying that the earliest that bridge construction might start was about five years.
But the requirement for a federal environmental impact statement left county officials waiting, and waiting and waiting. Finally, county officials gave up on the study without it ever being completed — a prerequisite for receiving federal money — and decided to finance it locally.
The bridge project is now very much back on the front burner with the county approving an agreement with URS Corporation Southern to design the bridge for $2.9 million.
The design is scheduled to be completed and submitted to the county by March 22, 2011, according to memo from Ron Schulhofer, county public works director.
But this will be a far more modest bridge than was being discussed at the beginning of the decade.
Now, what is planned is a 2,200-foot long, two-lane bridge, and rather than being a high-rise, it’ll hardly rise at all — just 27 feet above the mean high water mark.
This past week, URS representatives met with Waterlefe residents to discuss questions and reservations about the project.
Next up, a Notice of Intent to construct the bridge is being prepared for the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard.
A required public hearing has been set at Carlos Haile Middle School from 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 17, when a formal presentation will be made on the project, followed by a public forum.
County officials are confident that this bridge will be built. In a recent meeting with Herald editors, Jim Seuffert, director of the financial management department, and Schulhofer affirmed that “there will be a bridge there.”
Impact fees will pay for the bridge. There are plans to build another two lanes sometime in the indefinite future. But with the economic downturn, there are few new impact fees being collected these days, and the next two lanes are probably decades away from being built.
For more on the progress of the bridge, visit www.forthamerbridge.com.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.