Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo
Photo by ROGER LALONDE, Staff // Buy this photo
Meet the newest hot-button issue on Marco Island.
The replacement — specifically the when and how — of the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge is taking up space in the minds of many islanders that was once occupied by sewer installation.
It was on display at a Wednesday night forum where islanders got to hear directly from the city, county and state administrators involved in deliberations over the replacement. City Council Chairman Bill Trotter, Collier County Transportation Administrator Norman Feder, Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Phil Tindall and Florida Department of Transportation Southwest Area Director Johnny Limbaugh explained the past, present and future of the bridge and fielded questions about its replacement for nearly two hours.
Much of the information was a reiteration of previous discussions, including the current state of the bridge, which still has a comparatively high rating for a 39-year-old structure.
But some new revelations were on display Wednesday evening, including news that the alternate route on and off the island, the Goodland Bridge, is actually in excellent condition, and not the state of near-decay reported by the state after a 2007 inspection.
“No it’s not a self-healing bridge,” joked Feder. “We realized the state’s inventory had an incorrect load rating factor. ... In reality it is actually a 94, not a 45.4. The Goodland Bridge is really a functional bridge right now.”
The figures used by state-hired inspectors to calculate the sufficiency rating of the bridge were off, Feder explained, leaving the county with a belief that the easternmost bridge was in need of immediate maintenance. Ratings are assigned on a scale of 1 to 100, with a rating below 50 being a threshold for a bridge in need of immediate repair or possible replacement.
With that realization, opponents of a near-term replacement of the Jolley Bridge have a little more ammunition against a future with tolls. The county’s long-range plans call for a toll to be placed on the bridge with a new two-lane structure to be built no sooner than 2030. Following completion of that span, the two-lane Jolley Bridge would be demolished and another two-lane structure built in its place.
Tolls, understandably, are not a popular subject on Marco. However, officials said, calls from citizens to “let the state take care of it,” will likely go unanswered for some time.
“Other than the design, which was done for the bridge some time ago, the funding just isn’t there,” said Feder.
But transportation officials conceded at Wednesday’s forum that support among bridge users was lackluster when it came to adding a four-lane bridge in lieu of the current span. Focus groups and surveys conducted in the spring revealed the widespread belief that the bridge causes some tie-ups, but none that reach beyond the realm of minor inconvenience.
And according to Limbaugh, that may not be a problem if islanders like the current bridge.
“As it exists today, we’re in good shape, and with routine continued maintenance, it’ll last a long time,” he said.
Trotter told audience members the city is working with the other agencies represented at Wednesday’s forum in order to rework the $350,000 study commissioned by the county to review the feasibility of tolls. Among the new possibilities to be explored: designing a new two-lane bridge with “breakdown lanes” on either side, which would facilitate the flow of traffic in the event of a crash or maintenance work.
The city will also be allowed to continue to explore taking over responsibility for the bridge in the event that tolls do become a reality.
Feder encouraged that step, but cautioned residents to understand that control over tolls would also carry a heavy responsibility for maintenance. It could necessitate raising property taxes, he pointed out, or leaving the tolls in place after construction is paid for, as one audience member pointed out.
“The state does have maintenance and repair dollars,” Feder said. “If the state tries to let you take over the bridge, don’t even do it if you don’t have the money to pay for maintenance.”