Collier County to replace 10 bridges east of Immokalee, Ave Maria for $26.7M

Omar Rodríguez Ortiz
Naples Daily News
Collier County commissioners awarded bids on May 11 to replace 10 bridges east of Immokalee and State Road 29 for approximately $26.7 million. One additional bridge is left to award, and all 11 bridge replacements are not expected to cost more than $33 million, according to the county.

Collier County commissioners unanimously approved on Tuesday the replacement of 10 bridges east of Immokalee and Ave Maria for nearly $27 million. 

The source of funds for the bridge replacements is the one-cent infrastructure sales tax, which was approved by voters in 2018 "to enhance safety, mobility and hurricane preparedness," according to an executive summary of the project.

In Collier, bridges are replaced when they fail to meet certain standards, Marlene Messam, principal project manager with the Transportation Engineering Division, wrote in an email Tuesday.

Marlene Messam, principal project manager with the Transportation Engineering Division, speaks to the Collier County commissioners during a board meeting on May 11, 2021.

Five bridges on Immokalee Road, four on Oil Well Road and one on Countyline Road were built between 1948 and 1953, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

"Bridges that are over 65-years-old today were only designed with a 50-year useful life," Messam wrote.

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All 10 bridges are older than 65 years.

Out of the 10 bridges, four are "functionally obsolete" and one is "structurally deficient," according to FDOT.

Functionally obsolete means that the bridge design is outdated with narrow shoulders, narrow lanes or older traffic barriers; structurally deficient means that at least one component of the bridge is in poor condition or worse, according to FDOT's website.

"The county believes that all the bridges have passed their useful life with empirical evidence of deteriorating substructures," Messam wrote.

A photo of a bridge on Immokalee Road taken during a Florida Department of Transportation inspection in April 2021 shows a wooden pile that is completely broken.

FDOT sent last month two advisory letters to Collier County noting "significant deficiencies" found during the recent inspections of one functionally obsolete bridge and a the structurally deficient bridge, both on Immokalee Road.

The advisory letter of the structurally deficient bridge on Immokalee Road includes a photo of a wooden piling that is completely broken.

"It is imperative that the existing structure be monitored, and any necessary remediation performed, until the bridge is taken out of service," the advisory letter states.

In 2015, the county performed an emergency repair of a bridge on Immokalee Road to stabilize it, costing over $200K, according to Messam.

"None of the bridges are unsafe to use. They just need (to be) replaced soon," Messam wrote.

Collier County also takes into consideration other factors like the "sufficiency rating" before replacing a bridge, according to Messam.

The sufficiency rating is a tool used to help determine whether a bridge should be repaired or just replaced, according to FDOT.

"If the bridges are not deemed 'functionally obsolete' by the FDOT but have a sufficiency rating lower than 80 (out of 100), the county further investigates whether to expend public funds to do major rehabilitation or replacement," Messam wrote.

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All 10 bridges have a sufficiency rating lower than 80, according to FDOT data

The bridges on Immokalee Road have annual average daily traffic, or AADT, between 3,200 and 4,635 vehicles, and the ones on Oil Well Road have an AADT of not more than 450 vehicles each, according to FDOT data. The bridge on Countyline Road has an AADT of 110 vehicles.

The new wider, sturdier bridges on Immokalee Road are designed to include wildlife shelves below them "to allow animals to get across the road safely," Messam wrote.

Each new bridge will have one 12-foot travel lanes in each direction and 8-foot shoulders, Messam wrote.

A bridge on Immokalee Road will have different dimensions because of its urban setting, the closest one to the town of Immokalee. It will include a 12-foot center turn lane and 6-foot sidewalks, Messam wrote.

County staff divided the bridges into four construction bid packages "to accelerate the construction schedule and minimize delays," according to the executive summary.

The entire project is expected to be completed in two-and-a-half years, said Trinity Scott, Growth Management Department deputy.

The first package, which concerns two bridges along Immokalee Road, was awarded to Lee county-based company Thomas Marine Construction for more than $4.4 million.

The second package, which concerns four bridges on Immokalee Road and Countyline Road, was awarded to Fort Myers-based company Zep Construction for almost $9.3 million.

The third package, which concerns four bridges on Oil Well Road, was also awarded to Zep Construction for nearly $13 million. 

One additional functionally obsolete bridge on Immokalee Road is left to award, bringing the number of bridge replacements to 11 and the price tag to not more than $33 million, according to the executive summary.

Commission Vice Chairman Bill McDaniels, whose district includes Immokalee and Ave Maria, said he was very pleased with the project.

"Some of these bridges, if you don't know ladies and gentlemen, still have wood pilings holding the road up," McDaniel said.

Collier County Commissioner Burt L. Saunders speaks during a board meeting on May 11, 2021.

Commissioner Burt Saunders asked how these bridge replacements would have been funded had taxpayers not voted in favor of the one-cent sales tax.

Responding to Saunders' question, Collier County Manager Mark Isackson said the county would have had to incur debt, making the project more expensive.

Chairwoman Penny Taylor said the county cannot ignore the fact that many people continue to move to the county. 

"We have to keep up with growth," Taylor said.

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