BY JACK SHORT – After a charged town-hall-style meeting during which the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority heard input from the public on bridge weight limits, there seem to be more questions than answers.
GIBA is still researching the legality of keeping the weight limits on their bridges and causeway at 40,000 pounds, which, according to Executive Director Kathy Verrico, has always been the limit.
When members of the public who attended the recent input session were asked to indicate who among them wanted current weight restrictions to continue, the majority raised their hands, according to minutes of the meeting provided by GIBA.
Still, some foresee legal challenges to any such action by the Authority.
Verrico said GIBA’s official position is that they are uncertain about whether keeping the restrictions in place would be legal, but GIBA’s attorney said he is confident that the enabling act, or legislation that created the special taxing district over which GIBA has authority, gave them broad enough powers to keep weight limits where they are.
Another piece of legislation, Florida Statute 316.555, seems to provide that authority, both in cases where the structural integrity of a road or bridge depends on restrictions, and in cases where it would be necessary for public safety and convenience.
It allows, where other provisions of the statutes do not provide contradictory mandates, the State Department of Transportation and “local authorities” with respect to their respective jurisdictions, to prescribe loads and weights and speed limits lower than those already prescribed by law if, in its judgement, roads or bridges would be damaged by higher-weight loads.
The legislation also provides local authorities with the ability to restrict weights on roads and bridges “whenever in its judgment … (such restrictions are) necessary to provide for the public safety and convenience on the highways … by reason of traffic density, intensive use thereof by the traveling public, or other reasons of public safety and convenience.”
Whether or not current weight limits would be construed as such remains to be seen, and it should be noted that GIBA has not yet taken a position or expressed any intention with regard to the limits.
Many, though not all, of the objections raised at the recent meeting seemed to focus on the presence of tour buses on the island, though tour buses already have access at certain capacities.
Critics of the weight limits have pointed out that restrictions create more traffic by requiring loads to be divided among more vehicles, and entities such as the Gasparilla Island Water Authority have suggested that keeping those restrictions in place would substantially increase the cost of upcoming construction projects.
Verrico said the results of their attorneys research would be presented at their April board meeting. That, like all GIBA board meetings, is open to the public.