Letter to the Editor: Smokehouse Bridge - What is meeting design standards?

I find it odd that the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project dominates the City Council and the news. As has been reported, the existing bridge has never been found to be unsafe by any government agency, or engineering firm. Yes, it’s been found to ‘not meet current design standards;’ but if we build one of the five bridges currently under consideration, it will also fail to meet current design specifications in a very short period. Many of the houses that we live in and cars that we drive now fail to meet current design spec’s. Just like our computers, as soon as you buy one it’s obsolete. Those specifications, as they should, are updated almost constantly as the governing manufacturing and safety boards increase their knowledge in ways to make things less expensive, safer and more efficient.

And, since the Smokehouse project is being pushed so hard, I find it interesting that 43 percent of those on the City Council, including the top two council members (the Chairman, Joe Batte and the Vice Chairman, Ken Honecker) live in the immediate area and would seemingly benefit more from the new bridge than the vast majority of the other Marco Island taxpayers. The majority of taxpayers would gain the most benefit by simply replacing or repairing the bridge, the sea wall immediately under the bridge, the guard rails and the sidewalks. The other bells and whistles can wait until we pay down our enormous debt, which is one of the highest in the state.

In fairness, it should be noted that one of the council members that may benefit from the bridge replacement, Larry Honig, has voted against replacing the bridge in the near term, at least until all possible government grants and funds have been exhausted. And, there is no immediate danger; we have ample time, probably years, before any action is an absolute requirement.

I’ve looked at the five Smokehouse Bay bridge designs under consideration. All of them include increasing the height of the bridge above the water, and park areas and walkways that extend under each side of the bridge. I’d like to see a list of the features that were requested by our City Council, and that were sent to the companies design and bid teams. And I’d like to see some bare bones estimates of what it would take to make only those structurally necessary repairs or replacements. The parkways and all the other fluff may be nice, but we already have plenty of parks and walkways on Marco, that we’re still paying for.

The issue that brings the topic to prime time, and that is meant to be a hue and cry to the public so that they will vote in favor of replacing the bridge, is that it is unsafe. But it’s not been declared unsafe. And even if the replacement were because the existing bridge ‘does not meeting current design standards’, why does that need to include lengthening and raising the bridge above the level that it is now? And why does that necessitate including the walkways, parks, etc. that go under the new bridge? All these things just multiply the cost of the bridge, and will mean that the many have to pay for the convenience of the few.

Also, lot owners (not the city) have to pay for the maintenance and replacement of seawalls on their property. So replacement of the sea walls should not be borne 100 percent by the city. The adjacent lot owners (Winn-Dixie, the Lutheran Church, Esplanade, etc.) should pay for any portion of the sea walls, the walkways, the lighting, etc. just as the lot owners would have to pay for sea walls, added lights, etc. along their properties. Have these adjustments been included in the cost of the bridge designs and estimates?

Bill Harris

Marco Island

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Comments » 9

marcofriend writes:

Two problems with your conclusions.
1. The bridge has been on the agenda for a number of years. It has had a much more intense inspection by an engineering firm than what the State would do for an inspection. The State only looks at surface issues and sees nothing under water. The residents on Marco Island chose a design of a bridge to replace the existing two bridges and that design happened to be the least expensive. Putting a $500,000 or $600,000 Band-Aid on the bridge and still have to replace it in 3-4 years seems ridiculous, especially when we will be throwing away up to $2,000,000 already spent for design and permitting.
2. The seawalls all around the bridge are close to collapse, much like the seawall just a few hundred feet up the canal from the bridge (a total collapse into the canal). Can these seawalls be replaced without removing the bridge infrastructure? We can't seem to get a straight answer on that either.

If one of the seawall company barges bump the pilings during one of their low tide runs in the middle of the night, will we all be surprised and perhaps inconvenienced much worse than with a controlled rebuilding of the bridge?

Again, I'm not for spending a lot of money on projects that are considered only marginally important, but this will be done now or in a few years, even if we throw some fast cast at it temporarily and lose the money already spent.

......and I haven't even mentioned people's safety when they try to cross the bridge on foot or on bicycles.

gk123 writes:

I agree with you completely. it's bad business to put a band aid on a this problem knowing replacement is necessary in the next 5 years. I'm a runner on the island and i can tell you first hand that there have been numerous times that crossing the bridge with oncoming cyclists or pedestrians is very dangerous, especially at night. We will all regret a decision not to correct this when someone is hurt or possibly killed due to the narrow sidewalks. This stretch of Collier is heavily used by residents and visitors to the island that enjoy the walk for exercise and to frequent the shops in the area, not just the residents who live in the immediate area. it's an expensive undertaking, but in my opinion necessary and I have faith that the council will make the correct decision for all the residents on the Island.

26yearsonmarco writes:

Bill Harris,

Your analysis of this issue is correct, and ties to the earlier article by Commissioner Honig.

Until real numbers are published on the replacement vs. repairs, the entire matter remains mute.

I asked Commissioner Honig, in his last letter, to publish the cost per lineal foot of comparable existing bridges on our Island over the last few years.

Once “We the People” see the difference in the numbers compared to the five bridges under consideration, the choice become as simple as ABC.

I have no idea who authorized, and why, two million has been wasted on “Designs”, but that is who the person, or persons the bridge should be named after, and we can refer to it a Monument to Stupidity.

LEHonig writes:

26yearsonmarco asked earlier for some figures on Smokehouse and some other bridges. I appreciate the help from city staff. I will try to use apples-to-apples figures and explain important differences. It's very difficult to compare the bridges.

Smokehouse Bay Bridges. Remember, it's really two bridges, one northbound, one southbound. Taken together, it's a 114 ft. span (228 feet in total), 104 ft. wide including 8 ft. sidewalks. To date, approximately $2 million has been spent on engineering and design. Only about $50,000 has been spent on permits, and most of these do not expire soon. We do not yet have contractors' bids (due in time to discuss at the July 15 City Council meeting). The engineering estimate is $7.3 million for constructing the bridge and roadway approaches, so $9.3 million in total, or $41,000 per foot. Utility work is separate (and presumably paid for by the utility, and I do not know that number).

East Winterberry Bridge. 120 ft. span, 65 ft. wide. Cost $4.965 million for the bridge and roadway approaches, or $41,000 per foot.

Jolley Bridge. 1,600 ft. span, 59 ft. wide and 55 ft. tall at highest point. Sidewalk only on one side. Cost $25.822 million for the bridge and roadway approaches, or $16,000 per foot.

26yearsonmarco writes:

Thank you Commissioner Honig and Marcofriend for the information.

Based on what I see, the T.Y. Lin design provides the highest bridge at the lowest cost, and should be used as a basis for the bidding process. I also wonder how much the elimination of the Arch would do to reduce the cost, unless it’s a structural component.

lauralbi1 writes:

It is really a good thing that all this dialogue is taking place on this subject. Hopefully, we all can recall the Public Hearings (Presentations) that took place when multiple designs were provided to citizens and the citizens that took an interest were asked to vote on which design, at the cost proposed, was the "favorite" or citizen chosen design.
Thanks to Rony Joel and Keith Dameron for doing the work and providing the meeting space for this exercise.
Again, I attended the meetings along with many other interested, concerned citizens. The vote was far from anything official. Kind of like what is taking place with the Mackle Park proposal. But it was a vote.
Right now we, Marco, should be able to save about 25% of the original estimate due to the downturn in construction. If that is, in fact, the case, then let's not lose that savings opportunity waiting and waiting.
Ed Issler

26yearsonmarco writes:


I believe the people participating in this dialogue, including Commissioner Honig, are trying to get a NORMAL BRIDGE built at reasonable cost, that allows traffic, and people, to cross the waterway that goes to and from your area, and not an overpriced "Work of Art".

The people responsible for spending the two million to date need to be held responsible for their poor judgment.

lauralbi1 writes:

In responding to your asbove comment, I did not vote for the design being considered. I actually voted for the design that provided the most clearance for boats. Kind of a "self serving" vote. I, personally, do not care what type of replacement bridge gets built, just so long as the bridge is replaced.
I would love to see an accounting of the $2 million you reference in your blog. Is this available at City Hall ?? OIf so, where ??
Ed Issler

26yearsonmarco writes:

in response to lauralbi1:

In responding to your asbove comment, I did not vote for the design being considered. I actually voted for the design that provided the most clearance for boats. Kind of a "self serving" vote. I, personally, do not care what type of replacement bridge gets built, just so long as the bridge is replaced.
I would love to see an accounting of the $2 million you reference in your blog. Is this available at City Hall ?? OIf so, where ??
Ed Issler

If the $2M is not accounted for, and available to public scrutiny, this becomes a very serious problem, and not simply “Money Under the Bridge”.

Let’s hope someone in charge responds to your question.

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