MARCO ISLAND — Drivers heading south into Marco Island on the S.S. Jolley Bridge should be able to use the parallel span currently under construction as early as June.
According to Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson Debbie Tower, work on the new bridge is slightly ahead of schedule, and all construction is expected to be completed sometime in fall, although an exact date has not been determined.
“The project has gone very well,” said Tower. “If anything, we’re ahead of schedule.”
Construction on the $25.5 million dollar project to build a two-lane structure parallel to the existing Jolley Bridge began in January, 2010 after the federal government awarded Florida stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Jolley Bridge has long been a priority for the state, which originally wanted to tear down the current bridge and replace it with two new, two-lane structures. That plan, which was estimated at nearly $60 million, was scrapped in favor of constructing a two-lane parallel structure. The existing Jolley Bridge underwent extensive renovations in 2009.
When the new 1,600-foot span is complete, which is expected to happen sometime in June, engineers will direct north-bound and south-bound traffic onto the new bridge so that work on the east side of the roadway approaching the bridge can be completed.
In early August, traffic will be divided between the two bridges, with one lane of south-bound traffic coming onto Marco Island diverted onto the new structure; and one lane of traffic heading back into Collier County directed onto the existing bridge.
Although weather can be a factor, especially in the rainy, summer months, Tower is confident that construction will be completed on time.
Having four-lanes of traffic will mean easier trips for residents, visitors and people who commute to the island for work, said Tower. Traffic will no longer have to come to a standstill if there is an accident, and hurricane evacuation should also be improved.
According to 2009 estimates, the most recent available, approximately 23,000 vehicles drive on the exisiting Jolley Bridge each day. Tower noted that while four-lanes will allow for double that capacity, that doesn’t mean traffic will increase.
“It means people who travel will have a more efficient trip.”
Although some residents originally had concerns that the picturesque view coming into Marco would be hindered because of the bridge walls that were planned, Tower said the construction will have a more open design to provide a better line of sight. The new span will also be taller than the existing bridge, although its vertical clearance of 55-feet, which is mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard, will be the same.
For residents living near the bridge who have had to deal with neighborhood road repairs and utility work to support the bridge construction, Tower empathized. “We recognize that construction work means inconvenience. But (building the bridge) has been a priority and we’re really pleased.”