The span that will eventually cross Smokehouse Bay, carrying Collier Blvd. over the narrow waterway beneath, may well be the world’s longest bridge.
It’s not the length of the bridge, it’s the length of the discussion over which design and which firm to choose. The City of Marco Island hosted one more workshop Monday evening at the community room inside the police station to let residents see the proposals submitted by the five groups of engineering firms, and hear directly from the architects their visions for the project.
In a possible indication of bridge fatigue, only a handful of Islanders turned out, heavily outnumbered by the platoon of design firm representatives. Even though the City Council will make the actual decision of which design to utilize, the city has worked tirelessly to solicit citizen feedback.
“We’ve had 14 workshops on this, and received over 600 comments,” said Marco’s public works director Rony Joel. In contrast to a turnout in the single digits at Monday’s event, approximately 100 people turned out in June for Orion Bank’s “In the Round” presentation on the issue, illustrating the beneficial effect an open bar can have on public participation in the democratic process.
This was the last workshop held for public input before the bridge proposals are presented to City Council on Sept. 21.
The Islanders who did show up Monday appeared to have given serious thought to the question of which bridge design is best suited to carry Marco Island into the decades to come.
“What I have done is look at the information presented evaluating not only esthetics but functionality,“ said island resident Tony Carro, who says his work as a pilot for Federal Express has prevented him from attending previous sessions on the bridge.
“You can’t make a decision just based on looks.”
Carro says he is leaning toward the proposal from the Lochner group, which has the widest horizontal opening for boats, and nice vertical clearance.
“The less constriction, the safer it is. If I could find whoever designed that (current) bridge, he wouldn’t be alive. I wish more people would attend these meetings, and not vote on a picture.”
Civic activist Amadeo Petricca said he wants to break out the cost of the bridge itself from the surrounding features.
“I look at it being a taxpayer and fiscally responsible individual. What is the cost of the bridge only? Any of the other amenities, I said ‘none of the above.’ That should be part of Veterans’ Park, and the cost should be put to a referendum. Whatever they want to do, taxpayers have to vote on. There’s no doubt in my mind, they want to do too much too fast.”
The bay walk and additional amenities included in the bridge proposals, he said, are “not for Islanders. It’s for vacationers, to encourage them to come here.”
Petricca added that after reviewing the various proposals, he favored the design by TY Lin as the best replacement for the current span.
Joel reiterated he did not want the design groups to break out the costs at this point, but is looking for input based on the features desired and the design preferences of islanders.
“The City Council will have that information. The costs are all about the same,” he said.
Part-time island residents Doug and Jennifer Frye brought their two children, Cameron, seven, and Cole, five, along with them to the workshop. Like many of the Islanders most concerned with the project, the location of their home makes it necessary for them to pass underneath the bridge to access the Gulf by boat.
“Anyone who lives on that side, it affects your property values, or if you want a bigger boat,” said Jennifer Frye. “Esthetically, we like the TBE bridge. We would choose Lochner for the clearance.”
Marco residents can learn more about the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project online by going to the city’s Web site, cityofmarcoisland.com. A link on the city’s home page lets Web-surfers see each of the five groups’ presentations, and vote for their favorite.
“Once the council decides on a design, we’ll work with the community further on the details and the features,” said Joel. “This is the beginning.”