A “Bon Voyage” progress report for my many island community friends. It is a bit long, my apologies.
My thanks to all for the opportunity to serve as the first GIBA executive director. It has been a privilege and pleasure working for you and with you over the past 15 1/2 years setting up GIBA. It has truly been an amazing and very rewarding adventure and in the process I have made many wonderful and lasting friendships with an array of outstanding people, both professionally and socially.
In January 1998 GIBA bought the entire toll, bridges and 2 1/2 mile causeway system and we started out in a small trailer. We have successfully evolved into a full service, customer-friendly organization providing a welcoming, hurricane-resistant facilities designed to last 100 years. Visitors and residents alike all now enjoy GIBA’s scenic gateway, three-lane toll plaza and administrative structure, both providing first class customer services and state of the art toll processing. The focus for the past 15 years has remained on improving our causeway & bridge safety. It has been a very rewarding trek venturing through many exciting times and challenges. Now I am departing with the new south bridge complete, the center bridge to be finished in six months and our new swing bridge likely to start construction this fall. I am proud that all of these many milestone events have been delivered on-time, when needed, within budget.
A few “progress” updates:
• SIB loan: Over the past two years it has been rewarding to work on all aspects of the SIB Loan project with our outstanding Finance Chairman Bill Holmberg, the State of Florida folks and our talented consultant team to ensure the dream low-rate30-year-SIB loan for GIBA will become a reality. I believe Bill’s superb leadership and our proactive GIBA teamwork will make it happen on time in July. The cost savings advantages it offers will make a huge difference for our many toll customers by keeping our future toll rates reasonable, hopefully at $6. I am proud to have been a part of this significant milestone process.
• Swing bridge construction permits: I am confident that my proactive oversight and coordination with H&H’s talented design team and my weekly input with many friends at the Coast Guard HQ will enable that team to successfully navigate the swing bridge permit process system, blend the Coast Guard and state historic efforts together quickly and deliver an on-time new GIBA swing bridge permit by July.
• County shoulder paving assistance: Terrific news. Charlotte County is now interested in helping GIBA to improve our new fixed bridges roadway to allow better bicycle safety, sooner. After many months of pre-planning, GIBA hosted a “shoulder paving” coordination visit for Charlotte County officials last week, as the county and MPO are focused in the future on providing better bicycle safety on all of their major roads.
Thankfully, at that meeting we learned key attendee Commissioner Bill Truex, our own West County commissioner, fully supports this focus in better community bicycle safety. Specifically, they seem serious in helping GIBA provide needed new four-foot paved shoulders by this fall, when the two fixed bridges are finished.
How? By proposing a concept last week to share 50 percent of the $200,000 estimated cost to add the four-foot safety shoulders in between the new fixed bridges in mid-July 2013. While at this point it is still only concept, it is reasonable, has traction and seems viable. The next step is to rally similar support from the other four commissioners. If it succeeds, it will provide better GIBA causeway shoulder safety by this fall and it should help save GIBA at least $100,000 in precious funds.
• New fixed bridges project: Oversight of this great project and participating in the weekly progress meetings has been my most incredibly rewarding experience. It has been delightful to work with Orion’s professional construction team and their proactive local project manager, J. P. Donoghue. The community has already benefited with smoother, safe, no-speed-bump travel from Orion’s recent on-time opening of the new south bridge.
Orion’s success can be measured by the flexibility, timely communications and professional work ethic they display daily and their ability to aggressively stay within budget and ahead of schedule. Orion’s very professional hard work will result in putting island traffic on the new center bridge sometime in July, and allow full removal of the old bridge by September.
I anticipate the entirety of two new fixed bridges project will be finished at least two months early, by October, which should also increase savings to GIBA.
In closing, my time at the helm of GIBA’s operations has been a positive and enriching experience. I have been blessed with a great “can do” staff and an array of insightful board members who truly care about our special island community.
It has been a superb team effort. Over the past 15 plus years we have gradually and successfully transitioned the GIBA from a slow and inept one-lane toll system with failing bridges we inherited in 1998 to become a first-class, professional bridge authority organization with an attractive, island-style, traffic-efficient three-lane toll plaza and an equally attractive, island-style administrative building ... all manned by our dedicated, customer-friendly GIBA staff.
Thankfully, the community is already enjoying the new south bridge design improvements, soon to be followed by the completion of new center bridge with its incredible views. Our beautiful, new, taller bridges will provide even better, incredible gulf and bay views. These wonderfully-designed new bridges should last 75 years and they are also a historical milestone, as they are the first-ever coastal Florida bridges capable of withstanding the side and uplift forces of a fierce 17-foot storm surge.
Over the past 15 years, GIBA has overcome many challenges and always stayed on course. It is now time for me to turn the page and focus on a new chapter – working several new and special projects in this community where I can continue to make a positive difference and help make things better. I am exceptionally proud of Team GIBA, and the dedicated staff who work so hard, daily, 24/7 to provide the community with the finest bridge opening and toll customer services available anywhere.
I have truly appreciated my opportunity to work with the original founding charter GIBA board and the array of caring community volunteer GIBA Board members over the past 15 1/2 years. Together we have constantly improved the GIBA’s facilities and services, while providing discounts and keeping our tolls customer friendly.
I look forward to seeing you all as I am out and about in our community, enjoying its beauty and working to protect it. Perhaps at Lighthouse Methodist Church events, the chamber’s tarpon tournament, at nearby Wildflower Preserve working on juvenile tarpon protections with Lemon Bay Conservancy and Mote Marine, or on other new and exciting proactive efforts focused on improving the quality of the water and better protecting our vital the fish habitat in Charlotte Harbor.
Very best wishes to all,Jim CooperFormer executive director of the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority
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