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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 4 years ago

My View: City's challenge paved the way

by: David Levin

Kudos on a well-written celebration of the Ringling Bridge’s 10th anniversary in last week’s edition. 

Former City Commissioner and Mayor Mollie Cardamone’s comment that the City Commission “made that bridge happen” is absolutely correct. 

As the attorney who fought the battle on behalf of the city, I can attest that had the city not challenged the bridge, a far different structure would today be standing.

As originally proposed, the Florida Department of Transportation’s design for the fixed-span bridge replacement was a standard, “off the shelf” design, typical of other bridges being constructed during that time. The proposed bridge had no stormwater-treatment facilities. As was common at that time, thousands of pounds of roadway pollutants would have discharged directly into Sarasota Bay through drain holes along the length of the bridge, called “scuppers.”

Following the city’s formal challenge of FDOT’s decision regarding the design of the fixed-span bridge replacement, FDOT kept improving the aesthetics and design of the proposed bridge in an effort to get the city to drop its challenge. 

The current beautiful design of the bridge is a direct result of the city’s efforts. In addition, the bridge’s initial design was modifed to capture and treat all bridge-generated stormwater to prevent the discharge of hydrocarbons, oils and other automobile-generated wastes from polluting the bay. The Ringling Bridge might have been the first bridge in the state to be so environmentally friendly.

State statutes at the time of FDOT’s planning of the new Ringling Bridge required FDOT to design the bridge after public hearings and take into consideration the desires of the public and local governments. Evidence and testimony presented at the administrative hearing to consider the city’s challenge of FDOT’s design revealed that long before FDOT conducted its required public hearings, it had committed to a fixed-span bridge replacement. 

FDOT had previously lost a case with respect to a proposed fixed-span bridge replacement to Anna Maria Island on the basis of a failure to afford the public an opportunity to present its comments to an agency with an open mind.

Following the city’s administrative challenge, FDOT took the position that the city had no right or legal standing to challenge FDOT’s decision with respect to the design of the bridge and further determined that the decision met statutory requirements. 

The City Commission elected not to contest FDOT’s finding that the design of the bridge met all statutory requirements, but it did appeal FDOT’s position that local governments have no right or legal standing to challenge FDOT planning decisions affecting a community.

The First District Court of Appeal set a significant precedent by agreeing with the city that state law did, in fact, grant a legal right and standing to local governments to contest FDOT’s planning decisions. Since that decision, FDOT has made substantial efforts to include public comment and local government opinions in the design of its transportation improvements.

Thus, as a result of the city’s challenge of the fixed-span bridge replacement as initially proposed, we now have a spectacular bridge of which we can all be proud; a much cleaner bay; and a more inclusive infrastructure-design process. Those are things worth celebrating.

David Levinis an attorney with Sarasota-based Icard Merrill.


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