MANATEE COUNTY — Manatee County officials have ruled out the possibility of a six-lane privately owned toll bridge across the Manatee River.
At a public hearing May 19, Manatee commissioners instead voted 6-1 to construct a county-funded two-lane bridge over the river between Fort Hamer and Upper Manatee River roads.
Public Works Director Ron Schulhofer estimated the project could be done for about $28.4 million. His department has three months to develop criteria for the bridge and have the proposal ready to go through the public bidding process for design and construction.
“I think this is something that needed to be done and this sort of brought everything to a head,” Commissioner Donna Hayes said.
Until last week, the county had been considering a proposal by a group of developers called the Fort Hamer Bridge Associates, who had offered to build a six-lane privately owned toll bridge over the river.
Led by developers Pat Neal, Carlos Beruff and Michael Jacobson, the development group last fall offered to construct a toll bridge as a way to move the project forward after Manatee officials decided building a bridge would be too expensive.
“We worked hard on (our proposal), and I think we did a good job,” Neal said. “Still in all, if the county can build the bridge for $28 million without tolls, I think that’s their only choice. So, I think they made a good choice. We support it.”
Growth in East County has slowed in the last year, making the need for the bridge less pressing. Construction costs also have decreased, causing several county road projects to come in under budget.
“Now that we’ve had a downturn in the market, there’s not the growth there once was so we have realized some savings,” Schulhofer said.
Schulhofer said the bridge could be paid for using money saved from reduced costs on the widening of U.S. 301 in Parrish and from the county’s Automated Traffic Management System.
Companies submitting proposals for the bridge will design for the structure’s future widening to four lanes, Schulhofer said.
After the county accepts a bid, the project likely will spend about 18 months in design before construction begins, he said.
Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].
The Manatee County Board of Commissioners initially supported efforts of a group called the Fort Hamer Bridge Associates, which proposed a public-private partnership in which it would construct a privately owned toll bridge over the Manatee River. A swap of county-owned and privately owned land would have been necessary for construction to be completed.
After the board decided to go with a two-lane Fort Hamer Bridge using county funds, board members decided they should establish a policy for creating public-private partnerships.