Marco Island Florida, New Marco Island Bridge 

 

Who was it that said we needed to make the proposed new Winterberry bridge taller anyway?

The U.S. Coast Guard, the city council and island residents have been up in arms as to the need to replace the deteriorating bridge that was declared "structurally weak" by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Questions have even been raised as to who should govern the bridge's waterway, but the Coast Guard says the controversy is purely a misunderstanding.

"The city decided they wanted to replace the bridge and proceeded with the assumption that it was under their jurisdiction but it's not," said Greg Shapley, the director of the bridge program for the 7th Coast Guard district. "It falls in a special category because there is a significant amount of navigation on it."

"We take care of a lot of bridges and that's why we have certain rules in place that keep everything running smoothly," he added, noting that he overseeing bridges from the U.S. Virgin Islands to as far away as North Carolina.

Marco Island city officials didn't ask the Coast Guard for approval to replace the bridge but already spent money hiring an engineer to design a new one that is an inch higher.

"Last November, we got a letter saying that regardless of what we did with the last bridges, we have to go through the bridge process with this one," said Tim Pinter, the senior project manager for the public works department assigned to oversee the redesign and coordinate bridge construction.

He has constructed several other bridges in Marco without going through a procedure with the Coast Guard and admits the new requirements are confusing.

"We are trying to find some reasoning and justification as to why this bridge has become different from the others," he said.

A new review team has been assigned to the Winterberry Bridge and that may be the reason behind the new protocol.

"It's a shame that they already invested money but we aren't in the business of telling them what to do," Shapley said. "We are here to make things happen for residents of the community and we don't want it to cost them too much."

The bridge program has semi-reviewed the city council's plan for a new bridge but height concerns are delaying the building of a bridge.

"We don't have any money amounts or heights confirmed yet. We just know that this bridge they want to build is one inch higher than the old one but that may not be enough," said Shapley whose team conducted a survey of residents and found that some wanted a higher bridge.

The Coast Guard is concerned that larger boats would have to wait until low tide to get past the bridge and that could create a lot of unnecessary traffic.
The city, on the other hand, looked into accidents in the last five years and found none, said Pinter.

"Residents who have lived here forever say this isn't even a concern," he added.

The city is also concerned that a higher bridge would raise the cost of the already $4.5 million dollar project.

The east and west slopes of the bridge would need to be much longer, according to the public works department. That is a costly option.

"We have to give them options like either tearing it down, going with a bridge that is one inch higher or making it six inches like the (Coast Guard) wants," said Pinter, who will submit an official questionnaire for approval to the Coast Guard on Friday.

The bridge is set for completion in December of 2007 because the city wants to avoid construction during season because of the influx of tourists to the area.

"We have assured them that once we get an application we will make this a priority. We know they spent money on this already," Shapley said. "The citizens have a keen interest in this and we want something that will work for everybody."



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