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What's the right size for a new Longboat Pass Bridge?

With new bridge alternatives on the table, FDOT returned to Longboat Key after community members raised concerns about size and scale.

A study done by the Florida Department of Transportation estimated that the current drawbridge is raised about 100-300 times a month.
A study done by the Florida Department of Transportation estimated that the current drawbridge is raised about 100-300 times a month.
File photo
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While Longboat Key commissioners agree that a new Longboat Pass Bridge is necessary, the question of how high and wide it needs to be remains unanswered.

Representatives with the Florida Department of Transportation attended the Longboat Key Town Commission’s June 17 workshop to discuss with commissioners possible solutions to concerns voiced by commissioners and community members. 

The FDOT hosted a public workshop on March 14 to discuss the alternatives for the Longboat Pass Bridge, which is functionally obsolete according to the department. Alternatives included three build alternatives and a no-build alternative. 

After the workshop, various community members both to the East and West of the Longboat Key side of the bridge raised concerns about the alternatives. Specifically, residents of Northgate were concerned about the new bridge’s proximity to the condominium complex

At the June 17 commission workshop, Project Manager Patrick Bateman said the new bridge would need to be built to the west of the existing bridge for multiple reasons. 

“We’re doing a shift to the side because we need to keep the existing bridge open,” Bateman said. “And going to the west, that’s keeping the bridge within FDOT property.”

Moving west means moving closer to Northgate. The residents of the condominium complex previously reached out to town commissioners, staff and FDOT representatives. 

The view from Carla Smith's window at Northgate. Residents are worried of the proposed bridge alternatives' impact on the community.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer

“We did get a lot of feedback from the condo regarding the proximity to it,” Bateman said. 

The existing bridge is 95 feet away from Northgate. As the alternatives were last presented, all three would land around 36.5 feet away from Northgate. 

“And this does take out a lot of the vegetative buffer that’s in between the condo and the road,” Bateman said.

But the discussion on June 17 focused on potential reductions in the width of the alternatives, which would push the new bridge to 45 feet away from Northgate. 

What are the alternatives? 

The no-build alternative would keep the existing bridge, which was built in 1957. 

The bridge is a bascule bridge (drawbridge) that stands 17 feet above the mean high-water line. It is classified as functionally obsolete due to its age and the design of the shoulders and traffic barriers. 

Bateman estimated that maintenance costs for the bridge could run to around $55 million over the next 30 years. 

The alternative bridges, on the other hand, would be expected to last upwards of 75 years. 

The first two alternatives are also bascule bridges, one at 23 feet high and the second at 36 feet high. The low-level bridge would cost around $147-158 million and the midlevel bridge would be around $153-$165 million. 

Bascule bridges, in general, cost more than fixed bridges, according to Bateman. 

The fixed bridge is the third bridge alternative for Longboat Pass. That alternative would be 78 feet high, making it tied for the fifth-highest bridge in the state. It would be higher than most other bridges in the nearby area, Bateman said. 

All of the alternatives also include a 90-foot-wide clearance in the channel, whereas the current bridge has a 50-foot clearance. 

Safety, community character 

After Bateman’s initial presentation, commissioners and community members were loaded with questions. 

“This whole project, for us, involves two issues if we can break it down like that,” Mayor Ken Schneier said. “One is safety, and the other is character.”

Maintaining community character, for the commission, means ensuring the bridge isn’t encroaching too close to residents’ properties. Most also agreed that the fifth-highest bridge in the state doesn’t fit Longboat Key’s vision. 

Bateman said the height of the fixed bridge — 78 feet — was based on a suggestion by the U.S. Coast Guard. According to Bateman, the Coast Guard said that height would allow for most vessels to pass through without needing a drawbridge. 

Vice Mayor Mike Haycock and District 4 Commissioner Debra Williams questioned this suggestion, citing that not many sailboats would need that high of a clearance. The two asked if Bateman knew how many or what types of vessels that was accounting for. 

Bateman didn’t have a clear answer but reiterated the decision was largely based on the Coast Guard’s recommendation. 

Additionally, Bateman presented some suggestions for reducing the width of the alternatives. 

Proposed lane configurations for Longboat Pass Bridge design alternatives.
Courtesy image

Right now, all alternatives have a 12-foot shared-use path, 12-foot shoulder and 12-foot travel lane on each side of the roadway. 

Bateman said a standard shoulder is 10 feet, which could be implemented here and reduce the overall width by 4 feet. Additionally, he suggested that the traffic lanes could be reduced by 1-2 feet. 

In terms of safety, commissioners raised concerns over the slope of the fixed bridge. The 4% slope may be too difficult for some of Longboat Key’s resident cyclists, the commissioners said. 

Haycock suggested it would be helpful for the FDOT representatives to come back with a report on how the fixed bridge alternative compares with the Ringling Causeway. 

Another one of Bateman’s suggestions was to eliminate one of the 12-foot shared-use paths and have it only on one side.

But that raised more questions: Should the path go on the east or west side? Should bikes be allowed on the path, or only on the shoulder? 

Schneier also asked if, instead, 4 feet could be eliminated from each shared use path. This would bring them to 8 feet, which aligns with the town’s long-term complete street vision. 

“I think we would be more comfortable to keep one at 12 (feet) and then cut it on the one side,” Bateman replied.

That’s because the FDOT considers 2 feet already as a buffer, so the suggestion of eliminating 2 feet already makes it an effective 8-foot shared-use path. 

Northgate resident Ben Ghosh was the first to speak in the public comment selection and said he feels as though the new bridge could be built so that the landing on the Longboat Key end is in the same location as the existing bridge. 

Moving the bridge closer to his condo complex also would mean moving the landing — or where the bridge meets the road — closer to the condos, which would also clear out much of the existing vegetation. 

An aerial view of the proposed Longboat Pass Bridge solution shows the new bridge would be built to the west of the existing bridge.
Courtesy image

This poses a safety threat, Ghosh said, because there are frequently trespassers under the existing bridge landing. 

“This last weekend, I asked some people who were trespassing to leave, they threatened me with violence, and I had to call the Longboat Police Department,” Ghosh said. “Unfortunately that’s getting more and more common. With the reduction of vegetation, this area is going to be thoroughly exposed.” 

Ghosh said he and other residents have been awaiting more engagement with them from the FDOT, but that has yet to come. He thanked the commissioners for their engagement, and said he hopes the elected officials will continue to help get answers.

What’s next? 

The project is currently still in the PD&E phase. Next, the FDOT will make a formal recommendation for what bridge alternative would be best, which will be followed by a public hearing. Bateman said the FDOT is targeting next March for the public hearing. 

The project is funded through design, but not yet construction. According to Bateman, the FDOT would look at 2032 for funding and construction.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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