MARCO ISLAND — After a half-year of waiting, Marco Island residents have finally started to see progress in the construction of a new span of the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge.
Pilings for the bridge, which is scheduled to be completed in the fall of next year, began peeking out through the water in the past week, bringing to an end eight months of work that has focused mainly on site preparation and underwater construction.
JoAnn May, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said construction is running smoothly and is on schedule to date.
“Things are progressing well,” she said. “Visually, you’ll start to see a lot more happening as the substructure begins to rise out of the water.”
The new bridge span will add two lanes of traffic access to the island. Once completed, traffic going onto the island will use the new span while traffic leaving the island will use the original two-lane Jolley Bridge.
Built with money from the federal stimulus packaged passed in 2009, the $25 million project will be rated for a Category 5 hurricane, which Marco Island Councilman Bill Trotter said is crucial for the safety of Island residents.
“It’s very important for the health and safety (of people on the island),” he said. “It has breakdown lanes so emergency vehicles can get on and off the island.”
Currently, the bridge only allows for one lane of traffic going in each direction, which can cause traffic jams especially during the evening exodus of people who work on the island.
Trotter, who also serves as the chairman of the Collier Metropolitan Planning Organization, which prioritizes road construction projects, said Marco Island is lucky that stimulus funds were available for the project.
“If we didn’t get (the funding), it would have been a toll bridge,” he said. “That would have driven prices up. It would have been costly for Islanders.”
He points to Sanibel, where tolls start at $6 to enter the island.
“That would have made the price of everything go up, for maintenance workers, for delivery drivers and for businesses,” he said.
The stimulus money didn’t cover everything the city had hoped for.
Trotter said officials still are looking for funds to build a fishing pier.
Keith Dameron, vice president of IberiaBank and the manager of the Marco Island branch, said the rising bridge is a reminder for people to stay vigilant about the construction process to ensure their needs are being met. He’s especially concerned about the area’s most precious resource — the view.
Dameron was instrumental in getting the architects to add a special railing that will help protect the view as people cross the bridge. Although officials were initially skeptical, eventually the railing proved to be a cost savings over the original plans.
“People on Marco are watching this very closely,” he said.