The bridge accessing Marco Island, the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge, was built in 1969 and was designed for a 50-year life span. The bridge is now 40 years old and is nearing the end of its useful life.
Under current conditions the bridge can last 10, 15 even 20 or more years, or it can be in serious trouble much sooner. The engineers cannot predict exactly when because there are many factors that could potentially cause the bridge to be closed down.
Although the bridge is in an aging condition, this is not the main reason that the Florida Department of Transportation has determined that two additional lanes are required coming onto Marco Island. FDOT’s main reason for an additional bridge is capacity. The original bridge was designed for 10,000 to 15,000 cars per day. Over the years, the number of cars crossing the bridge daily has increased to 25,000 to 30,000.
In addition to capacity, there are other factors that have been considered by FDOT, Collier County Department of Transportation and the Collier County MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) for determining that an additional bridge is necessary.
There are only two lanes now with no breakdown lane. There is very little room for ambulances to pass in case of an accident. It is also our evacuation route. We know that hurricane season occurs off season but studies show that people are coming onto Marco Island earlier in the year and staying later in the year, additionally the population is also growing.
Condition of the existing bridge
The bridge is considered to be “functionally obsolete” by FDOT. The bridge is owned by the state and the state is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. Three years ago, some major work was performed on the bridge, which brought its rating up to 81 on a scale of 100. This is considered to be a good rating, however, only six months later the bridge was reduced to a 70 percent rating, a drop of 18 percent in a short period of time. While this shows that conditions on a bridge this old can change rapidly and therefore must be constantly monitored, it does not mean that the bridge is unsafe.
FDOT will continue to make any required repairs to keep the bridge in a safe, usable condition. There is concern however, that a category-three storm could cause major damage, which could possibly cause temporary closing of the bridge for repair or even worse, permanent closing.
This has always been my concern and the reason I feel that a new bridge is necessary.
Closing the bridge
Although it is most likely a remote chance that the bridge would have to be closed, the ramifications of closing the bridge would be absolutely devastating to all residents and businesses of Marco Island. The consequences are so far reaching that I do not believe we can afford to take that risk. This concern is shared by all agencies responsible for transportation in our area.
History of the bridge’s placement on transportation priority lists
Awareness of this issue actually came to light about 15 years ago when then-County Commissioner Dick Shanahan began promoting this project. At that time, it was pushed up to number one on the county transportation priority list. When Mr. Shanahan left office, it then fell way down on the list, with little or no attention being paid to the issue.
When I joined the Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization in 2000, I began perusing the project again and continued to work on it until it worked its way to number two on the priority list. An expansion project of Davis Boulevard kept it at number two. When the Davis Boulevard project was eventually resolved, the new bridge to Marco was moved up to number one priority.
The “magic bullet” to funding
As mentioned above, FDOT, CCDOT, and the MPO fully supported the project. In 2004, FDOT awarded a $2 million grant to have the bridge designed and the plans drawn. Preparing the plans placed the project in a position where it could be started without delay because there is no right of way to be acquired. All land that is to be used is already owned by the state. No one anticipated at that time that this preparation would eventually be the “magic bullet” that would enable us to obtain the funding for the project.
All of the entities involved labored to try to find ways to finance the project. Over the years, there were many attempts to obtain funding through federal highway grants, state grants and any other source that could possibly be in a position to help provide funding. It seemed almost eerie as we came so close in so many instances, that all of a sudden major cuts were made on both the federal and state levels that made funds unavailable for our project. On two occasions we came extremely close to obtaining funding, but were cut out at the last minute. The MPO itself was actually going to fund the project, but again, major cuts were systematically made that rendered it impossible for them to do so.
With the plans close to completion, the FDOT became concerned about the funding. They were hoping that funding could be in place within a specific time frame so that the plans would not become obsolete.
At that point, the state began to study the possibility of funding the bridge by using toll revenue. The cost of the study was funded by the MPO and the study began and was still going forward when the stimulus issue came to light.
When the project first began, the thought was to build an additional two lanes right on the existing bridge. This idea was quickly dismissed by the engineers when they determined that the bridge was not structurally sound enough to accommodate the additional structure. It was then decided that a new bridge was necessary to add the two new lanes. As the project progressed, FDOT determined that a new bridge would be built, and, once completed, the existing bridge would be rehabilitated in order to bring it up to modern standards. As the engineering progressed, it was determined then that it would be more cost effective, rather than refurbishing the old bridge, to raze it and re-build it. More features were added such as bike lanes, sidewalks, a new fishing pier, and parking lots in each of the four corners of the bridge. All of these amenities would have been great, but they pushed the cost of the project to more than $50 million.
Councilor Bill Trotter, Marco Island’s current representative on the MPO, recommended that we go back to our original plan and just build one new bridge and continue to use the old one. That is where the discussions were when the stimulus program came about.
The plan today
As it stands now, the project will consist of a new two-lane bridge which will be southbound lanes, there will be breakdown lanes and possibly a sidewalk. The existing bridge will remain intact and will become two northbound lanes and FDOT will continue to maintain both bridges.
The rules that govern the recipients of funds under the stimulus program seem to be designed to fit the situation in which our project currently stands. The project must be in a ready-to-go position or as they say “shovel-ready.”
We are exactly in this position and can begin the project very soon. I believe that construction will probably begin by the end of this year and will most likely be about a three-year project. Completion of this project will place all residents of Marco Island in a much less vulnerable situation and make it much more convenient for all citizens.
There are many people who have worked very hard on this project. Our County Commissioners, Tom Henning, Fred Coyle, Frank Halas, Jim Coletta and Donna Fiala. County Transportation Director Norm Feder, the MPO and its director Phil Tindall, FDOT representatives Stan Cann and Johnny Limbaugh. Our own citizens George Schroll and Rony Joel, Senator Garrett Richter, who worked very hard in session in Tallahassee to get this through the Florida Legislature and of course our MPO Rep Bill Trotter.
It seems ironic that after all the disappointments over the years, it took a national financial crisis to finally obtain the funding, but the people of Marco Island are very fortunate that we can now proceed with our new bridge.