While the U.S. Coast Guard will soon explore changing the amount of times Siesta Key and Anna Maria Island bridges open, a request by the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization to do the same for the Longboat Pass Bridge was rejected.
“While the Coast Guard agrees that both vehicular and vessel traffic in this area has grown our primary concern encompasses safety of all modes of transportation,” wrote Coast Guard Director of Bridge Administration Barry Dragon in a May 19 memo to MPO Executive Director David Hutchinson. “Due to the limited safe vessel holding areas and shoals in the area, the Coast Guard is unable to approve a change to this bridge schedule, as this could lead to multiple vessel accidents and bridge (collisions).”
The MPO had requested the Coast Guard consider reducing the number of bridge openings at Longboat Pass and elsewhere to two times per hour throughout the year. Board members hoped that this regulations could help ease some of the barrier islands’ traffic woes.
For the New Pass Bridge at the south end of the Key, the bridge must open every 20 minutes when boats are present, up to three times an hour between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., the bridge must open on signal with at least three hours’ notice.
At the north end, the Longboat Pass Bridge opens on demand for boaters. And the Cortez Bridge, which connects Bradenton Beach to mainland Manatee County, opens on demand every 20 minutes between May 16 and Jan. 14, and every 30 minutes on demand from Jan. 15 through May 15, which contributes to gridlock at the north end.
Coast Guard Bridge Management Specialist Michael Lieberum said it could take anywhere from eight months to more than a year for the agency to make the change, during which it collects public comment.
“Yes, there is a lot of vehicle traffic all throughout the Sarasota area,” Lieberum said. “I don’t know how much of an effect bridge openings have on the traffic, however the bridges do have to open sometimes to let the boats through.”