BY MARCY SHORTUSE – When you go to leave the island next Tuesday, Dec. 15, you’ll be getting a whole new perspective from a lot higher up. That’s because you’ll be driving on our brand-new swing bridge.
According to Kathy Banson-Verrico, executive director of the Gasparilla Island Bridge, that is the day they are shooting for to begin the transition of traffic to the new bridge.
Those coming on the island will still be on the old bridge for a time.
“We are shooting for Tuesday,” Kathy said. “Once we shift on-island traffic to the new bridge, GLF Construction will be concentrating on building up the west side of the roadway … There’s a lot of work to do there. It should take three or four months from that point before the old bridge is gone. We’re anticipating the old bridge will be gone by April.
Work on the south end of the causeway (by Uncle Henry’s) is now complete as well.
As far as bridge closures go, Kathy said they are still bound by the Coast Guard to open the bridge on the hour in the morning if a boat is waiting, and every two hours from 2 to 8 p.m. Because there was a four-day emergency closure last week, much boat traffic had to be rerouted around the swing bridge. Even though the Coast Guard is supposed to routinely give updates on the marine band radio, many boaters said they didn’t hear the notification until it was too late, and they had already entered Gasparilla Sound.
Kathy said that all problems with the new swing bridge have been fixed, so there should be no more issues like that.
“Also, because the new bridge is 22’ 6” above the water, we won’t require nearly the same amount of bridge openings,” she said. “Right now the length of each closure is long because we have to open two bridges, too. Remember, every time the bridges open, the workers have to move all of their tools and equipment out of the way, then put it all back together when the bridge closes again.”