MANATEE COUNTY — A drive up Manatee River Road one day may lead to a bridge crossing over the Manatee River. But for now, state agencies are working to determine what impacts the proposal may have on the environment and nearby residents, and if those impacts can be mitigated.
Nearly 300 East County residents gathered Aug. 17 at Haile Middle School to speak with representatives of URS Corp., the company Manatee County has hired to engineer the Fort Hamer Bridge, as well as to share their concerns with representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard during a public scoping meeting.
The Coast Guard will use the feedback it has collected to determine the scope of work for a pending environmental impact study.
The bridge is part of Manatee County’s long-range transportation plan. As proposed, the 2,200-foot-long, four-lane bridge will connect Upper Manatee River and Fort Hamer roads over the Manatee River. It also would provide connections to U.S. 301 and County Road 675 from Fort Hamer Road and to State Road 64 and Rye Road from Upper Manatee River Road.
At the meeting, residents raised a plethora of concerns, such as how the project would impact local wildlife, water quality, the safety of children walking to Williams Elementary School and the safety of Waterlefe residents as they enter and exit both entrances to their community. Additional concerns included noise pollution, aesthetics and archaeological history.
Parrish resident David Payne was one of several people to suggest expanding the Rye Road Bridge rather than constructing a new one. As an experiment, Payne drove on U.S. 301 from Rutland Road (County Road 675) over to Fort Hamer Park, and then from Waterlefe’s entrance to the intersection of State Road 64 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. Adding a minute of travel time for crossing the bridge, the difference between that alternative and using the Rye Road bridge farther east repeatedly proved to be a difference of two to four minutes, he said.
“We’re talking about three minutes for $30 million,” Payne said. “We put rockets into space for less.”
Payne also suggested increasing the speed limit along Golf Course Road to encourage use of the Rye Road Bridge.
Attorney Patricia Petroff, who spoke on behalf of Waterlefe’s community development district, posed pointed questions about the safety, as both entrances to the Waterlefe will be impacted by the project.
“You are making it unsafe for the residents of Waterlefe,” Petroff said.
But the project did receive support from some residents as well as members of the business community. The Manatee County Chamber of Commerce also is endorsing the project, noting it would provide an alternative hurricane evacuation route and alleviate traffic in the East County and on other local bridges, among other reasons.
The Coast Guard is expected to define the scope of the project by mid-September.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.
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