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Built to last 50 years (in 1957), Longboat Pass Bridge needs replacing — eventually

The state's $2,125,000 study will evaluate options for the bridge that links Longboat Key to Anna Maria Island.

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  • | 3:00 p.m. December 20, 2021
The Longboat Pass Bridge currently has a 17-foot clearance. The state plans to raise the new bridge to be between 30-40 feet.
The Longboat Pass Bridge currently has a 17-foot clearance. The state plans to raise the new bridge to be between 30-40 feet.
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It will take years, maybe more than a decade, for the state to replace the Longboat Pass Bridge.

While a replacement bridge coming to fruition is still a long way away, there is already some discussion about where it will be built relative to the existing bridge.

Florida Department of Transportation Project Manager Patrick Bateman provided the Town Commission an update on Dec. 13 about the state’s ongoing $2,125,000 Project Development and Environment Study of the bridge.

“There were a lot of comments from the condos that are on the west side of the touchdown on Longboat Key,” Bateman said. 

The Northgate of Longboat Key Condominiums are located to the west of the bridge at 490 North Shore Road. Condo President Richard Abuza explained what he wants to see happen.

“You’ve got an important community that has existed for a long time on the east side of the bridge at Lands End (Drive), and the reality, both politically and as a reasonable compromise, is to have the bridge land where it’s landing now,” Abuza said.

Bateman told the Observer there isn’t a way to accomplish that, stating the replacement bridge will be to the east or west of the current bridge in place. The plan is to construct the span while still using the old one. 

Abuza advocated for an “outside-the-box” solution to make a design plan for the bridge to land in its existing footprint.

“I have seen designs and seen bridge construction where essentially they build a new bridge alongside the existing bridge and they have a temporary landing during the construction phase, but the final section essentially involves the demolition and reconnection of the new bridge to the existing landing site,” Abuza said.

Drayton Saunders owns the landmark property at 7300 Gulf of Mexico Drive, overlooking the drawbridge from the east. Saunders said he wanted to see FDOT provide the public with more opportunities to provide feedback about plans for the new bridge.

FDOT held a meeting on March 23 at the Harbourside Ballroom that included 11 staff members and only 16 members of the public.

“If you just have the narrative of COVID, I think there needs to be a doubling down of that effort to really engage the public, but also, again, those most impacted,” Saunders said. “And that, for me, is extremely important because as this project moves forward because of the large timeframes, you don’t want to get that voice lost.”

At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop made two suggestions to Bateman and FDOT leaders.

“Number one, the workshop, obviously, was still at the height of COVID, but number two please find a location in the northern end of the island so that the people are most impacted are not driving all the way down, trying to get behind the (Key Club) gates for a public meeting,” Bishop said.

FDOT is planning to hold an alternatives public workshop in December 2022 and hold a public hearing in January 2024. The PD&E study is set to finish in August 2023.

Bateman told the Town Commission about some of the feedback the state has received from the public.

“(There are) some concerns for safety, so they want to make sure that there are lanes for bicyclists and pedestrians since it’s very lacking. The existing bridge is very lacking,” Bateman said. “We had people who want the bridge higher because their boats don’t fit and they don’t want to wait for an opening.”

The bridge is about three-quarters of a mile long and was built to last 50 years in 1957. It connects the north end of Longboat Key to Coquina Beach.

Bateman said the Longboat Pass Bridge underwent $5.3 million worth of repairs in 2019. It included deck repairs, concrete superstructure and substructure repairs, steel painting, electrical, mechanical and scour protection.

“With monitoring and periodic maintenance another repair project would be scheduled for 2029 if the bridge is not replaced prior to that,” Bateman wrote in an email to the Town Commission.

District 2 Commissioner Penny Gold asked FDOT about the possibility of adding a tunnel.

“On the Cortez (Bridge) project, they looked at doing a tunnel for the whole crossing,” Bateman said.

Bateman said building a tunnel is more expensive than a bridge.

Saunders said he would like to see FDOT, the town and the public address many different kinds of possibilities.

“I just hope we have all the different technical solutions on the table before we limit ourselves to simply a cost discussion,” Saunders said.

The state also received written feedback from the public.

The Longboat Pass Bridge has a height clearance of 17 feet, which is lower than the Coast Guard Standard for a drawbridge. The  New Pass Bridge on the southern end of Longboat Key has a clearance of 23 feet and 3 inches.

Bateman said the plan is to increase the height clearance to between 30-40 feet for the Longboat Pass Bridge.

Whenever a new bridge gets built, there has been some discussion on what to do with the old one. Many Longboaters have expressed that if the old bridge is used as a fishing pier, to limit the access to the north end. It’s because Coquina Beach has substantially more public parking than the 30 spaces provided on North Shore Road.

Pedestrian and biker safety is also a concern.

Longboat Key resident Deborah Richards likes cycling over the Longboat Pass Bridge to Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria Island.

“I like this ride,” she said. “I’ll go up to Anna Maria, all the way to the end. I like it a lot.”

Richards currently rides on the opposite side of the street so oncoming walkers see her biking along the narrow sidewalks on each side of the bridge.

“It should be welcoming walkers and bikers more than all this traffic,” Richards said.

Richards is a proponent of widening the narrow walkways.



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