The East County Observer reviews the top stories of 2013.
EAST COUNTY — The fate of the proposed Fort Hamer Bridge may soon be determined.
After months of delay, the U.S. Coast Guard released a draft of the URS Corp.’s environmental impact statement June 25. The document indicates the need for a bridge, connecting Fort Hamer Park to Upper Manatee River Road, near the Waterlefe community, remains.
Manatee County will hold a public meeting on the project Aug. 7, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.
The U.S. Coast Guard will chair the meeting, which is one of the last steps for securing final site-plan approval for the bridge.
Manatee County hired URS, a Tampa-based provider of engineering, construction and technical services for public-sector and private-sector companies, to complete the EIS.
The Coast Guard required Manatee County to expand its environmental impact statement to include the Rye Road Bridge and determine whether it could meet the county’s need for a north-south route, after residents from Waterlefe, in July 2010, rallied against the two-lane bridge project.
They said the proposed Fort Hamer Bridge, which would connect Upper Manatee River Road to Fort Hamer Road, would create increased traffic along Upper Manatee River Road. The Rye Road Bridge, farther east, would satisfy transportation needs just as well, they said.
As part of the EIS, URS confirmed a written disclosure of the proposed Fort Hamer Bridge was made — and continues to be made — to all Waterlefe homeowners in their purchase documents.
Ron Schulhofer, Manatee County director of public works, said expanding the EIS has cost the county more than $25,000.
The EIS takes into account feedback, which the Coast Guard solicits, from Manatee County residents.
The EIS draft concludes the proposed Fort Hamer Bridge is the best alternative to satisfy the need for an alternative north/south transportation route between areas east of Interstate 75.
The county also has said the bridge will shorten emergency-response times and improve evacuation capacity during emergencies when access across the Manatee River is needed.
URS found the bridge to be consistent with Manatee’s 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan. It has been a part of county’s comprehensive plan since 1968.
URS said the other two alternatives — the Rye Bridge alternative, which would include expanding the bridge and nearby roads from two to four lanes, and doing nothing — are not ideal options.
The expansion of the Rye Road Bridge would not shorten emergency-response times and would be more expensive than building Fort Hamer Bridge, URS found. It would also produce more noise.
The EIS states the Fort Hamer Bridge would have a larger impact on natural resources, compared to the Rye Road alternative.
It would affect a greater number of wetlands — 5.30 acres, to be exact — and floodplains.
URS called those impacts unavoidable and said they would be mitigated in accordance with federal- and state-permit requirements.
Overall, URS said there is “no practicable alternative” to the Fort Hamer Bridge.
Before construction begins, Manatee County must obtain permits several government agencies require.
For example, the impact on wetlands requires a dredge-and-fill permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The USACE would consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fishery Service.
The USACE would also coordinate its review with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s August public meeting is another step in the EIS draft and serves as chance for the public to comment on the EIS’ findings.
The EIS draft will be available on the federal docket July 5.
A physical copy of the draft also can be found at the Manatee County Central Library, the Rocky Bluff Library and the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce’s Lakewood Ranch office. It’s also available online at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg551/CGLeadProjects.asp.
Project costs for the Fort Hamer Bridge are estimated at $30.09 million.
Originally, construction on the bridge was expected to start in July 2011.
Contact Josh Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatives studied in the environmental impact statement
1. No-build alternative: Perform nothing more than currently funded. Perform only programmed maintenance and safety improvements included in the Manatee County Capital Improvement Program.
2. Fort Hamer alternative: Build a two-lane, mid-level bridge connecting the two-lane Upper Manatee River Road on the south to the two-lane Fort Hamer Road on the north. This is the preferred option.
3. Rye Road alternative: Widen the existing Rye Road bridge from two to four lanes; widen Rye Road from State Road 64 to Golf Course Road, from two to four lanes; widen Golf Course Road from Rye Road to Fort Hamer Road, from two to four lanes; and widen Fort Hamer Road from Golf Course Road to U.S. 301, from two to four lanes.