Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Manatee still waiting on Fort Hamer Bridge review

By Nick Williams

Manatee County government expected to receive feedback on the environmental impact statement submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard for approval to begin designing a two-lane bridge at Fort Hamer on June 18.

The county is still waiting on the Coast Guard's review of the statement.

The county submitted a draft to the Coast Guard in late March. Once the statement is deemed satisfactory, the Coast Guard will issue a notice of availability for the public to review the plans, allowing the county to schedule public hearings.

Though the design is incomplete, cost estimates at this stage of the design are between $21 million and $28 million.
Nick Azzara, county spokesman, said the Coast Guard is not under a deadline to submit feedback.

Building the bridge has spurred debate among county residents. It has also been a topic discussed during forums between county commission district candidates.

According to the EIS draft submitted to the Coast Guard, the bridge would improve traffic flow, improve emergency response time and coverage, improve hurricane evacuation flow, increase safety, improve air quality, and provide an alternative to Interstate 75 for north/south travelers. Bicycle lanes and sidewalks along the corridor and across the river on the bridge would be provided.

The draft also addresses the environmental impact, stating the bridge would directly affect 5.3 acres of wetlands and indirectly affect an additional 1.12 acres of marsh and seagrass in the Manatee River. The impact to the wetlands would have a minimal effect on wildlife, according to the draft, which is concurred by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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