No matter how many reassurances residents and organizations have had from the Florida Department of Transportation, the sense of trepidation regarding planned renovations of the north Siesta bridge project is very real.
Residents who suffered through two resurfacing projects in two years on the Key — and waited in lines 20 or 30 minutes long to get on or off the island — have voiced much of the concern. They are joined by business owners who fret that tourists will be deterred from making the trip to the Key, even though FDOT has promised one lane of the bridge will remain open at all times, and the work will be done only at night.
“It will be (a disruption), no doubt about it,” said Russell Matthes, president of the Siesta Key Village Association and co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck. “Any time there’s any type of barrier … it’s going to deter people from coming out to the Key.”
Until recently, Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, had been keeping an optimistic outlook on the project. In fact, she said FDOT officials have advised her about many worthwhile suggestions they have received from Siesta residents that should enable the work to progress more smoothly. What worries Luckner, she said, is that two other planned projects could combine with the bridge work to create havoc.
One involves the restoration of Palmer Point Park. County staff has been working with the contractor to resolve payment issues relating to a change in the plan for removing dredge materials from that island, which was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1960s. When the contractor and the county ran into a barrage of protests from two different neighborhood groups about trucks using routes by their homes, the county pursued another option: use of the FDOT right of way by the north bridge for the offloading of the dredge material from barges pushed up the ICW from the park.
Project Manager Paul Semenac told Siesta Key Association members last fall he had hoped the contractor could start work at the bridge site Nov. 1. However, James K. Harriott Jr., executive director of the county’s Public Works Department, told the Pelican Press Dec. 6 that the project still was stalled.
Although Semenac had said the contractor could not use the bridge right of way once the renovations began, Luckner questions what will happen if the contractor cannot finish all the dredge material removal before the bridge work starts June 5.
The other cause for concern, Luckner said, is the city of Sarasota’s plan to install a new sewer pipe along the FDOT right of way by the north bridge.
Dave McAnaney, the senior project manager of Santec, which is overseeing the sewer work, planned to meet with the SKA Jan. 5 to discuss that project. He needs the SKA’s approval to seek an FDOT permit to use the department’s right of way by the north bridge for the sewer line installation.
The city wants to replace a cast-iron pipe “(that) is old and has seen its useful life,” he said.
The sewer pipe replacement by itself “is not going to have a high impact on traffic on the bridge,” McAnaney said.
The city also wants to complete the work before the bridge renovations begin — “get in, get it done and get out before the first of June,” McAnaney said. Otherwise, the city would have to wait until the bridge work was completed before it could tackle the sewer project.
Luckner said she was keeping a positive outlook on everything.
“(FDOT engineers) are so organized,” she said. “Just remember that the bridge is never going to be closed (during the work).”
North bridge renovation details
The Florida Department of Transportation has issued the following details about its rehabilitation of the north Siesta Key bridge:
• The work is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. June 5.
• One lane of traffic is to remain open at all times, as work continues between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., excluding a break for the July Fourth holiday (June 29 through the daytime hours July 8) and Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31 to Sept. 3).
• The expected completion date is Oct. 16.
• The cost is estimated at $3.49 million.
• FDOT has approved an incentive/disincentive bonus up to $150,000.
• The contract with the firm handling the work is expected to be signed by mid-February, according to Jennifer Stafford, public information officer working for the project.
• A public meeting with details on the construction timeline and other relevant information is being planned for May.