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?