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Single-span bridge preferred to replace for Little Ringling Bridge

A rendering of the preferred alternative to the Little Ringling Bridge looking toward the west.
A rendering of the preferred alternative to the Little Ringling Bridge looking toward the west.
Courtesy image
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With the Little Ringling Bridge now in the Project Development and Engineering phase, the Florida Department of Transportation has shared its preferred alternative to replace the twin spans between Bird Key Drive and Sarasota Harbour West.

Even as westbound traffic was backed up from downtown Sarasota to St. Armands Circle early Thursday evening, the FDOT revealed its plan to build a single bridge, choosing that over a two-bridge or a no-build option.

The latter option, over the next 30 years, would cost more than half that of a new bridge with a service life of 75 years. Afterward, the bridge would still need to be replaced, likely at a much higher price.

Selecting the preferred option now allows for further PD&E, although construction remains unfunded and the earliest work would begin is 2028.

According to the FDOT study, rehabilitation projects in the no-build option would likely include partial or complete deck replacement, substructure and beam repairs, and replacement of structural pile jackets plus corrosion protection to slow deterioration. Maintenance repairs would be ongoing and larger rehabilitation projects could be expected approximately every five years.

The total estimated no-build cost is $38.8 million compared to $59.1 million for the single bridge preferred option. A rejected two-bridge alternative was estimated at $63.7 million.

During the workshop held at St. Armands Key Lutheran Church, Project Manager Patrick Bateman showed a video that provided details about the project. It was not a question-and-answer, but rather an information-gathering exercise to receive public comment. 

Only three residents offered that input, two in person and one via Zoom, including Columbia Restaurant and St. Armands Circle property owner Casey Gonzmart. 

The new Little Ringling Bridge will be raised 10.5 feet higher at the highest point than the current bridge, allowing for boat navigation.
Courtesy image

While he endorsed the single bridge concept, he was concerned about access to St. Armands and even more traffic congestion as a result of the construction.

“We would like to take this opportunity to understand what access will be to the keys for safety and otherwise during the period of construction, and an estimate of how long the construction may take,” Gonzmart said. “This is something that's going to make everyone anxious for a period of time.”

Gonzmart said a marketing plan should be developed to inform visitors that the bridges are open and that St. Armands and Longboat keys are accessible.

The FDOT’s Tentative Five-Year Work Program includes funding for the Project Development and Engineering and design through Phase 2, or roughly 60% of construction plan development. The start of construction is anticipated to occur in fiscal year 2028-29. Throughout the PD&E stage, the no-build option will remain a possibility.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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