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Detour: No bridge ahead

The plan to build a temporary span to allow passage during construction of a new Gospel Island bridge to the mainland has been dropped.

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published September 10, 2005


INVERNESS - Gospel Island residents can usually reach downtown in a matter of minutes, crossing a 54-year-old timber bridge to the mainland.

But when Florida Department of Transportation crews begin constructing a concrete bridge this summer, an 8-mile detour will send residents looping around Gospel Island Road to State Road 44, adding 10 minutes to the trip for many.

DOT officials originally promised to build a temporary bridge to the island to allow passage during construction. Now they say that would be too expensive, adding $1-million to the $1.7-million project's cost.

At an Aug. 31 meeting, DOT District 7 Secretary Don Skelton decided to remove the temporary bridge from construction plans.

The decision came as a surprise to county and city officials, who are asking the DOT to reconsider.

In an e-mail to a DOT official Wednesday, county engineering project manager Walt Eastmond said the county was "taken aback" by the "unilateral decision to omit the necessary installation of the temporary bridge."

He described the detour as "excessive." Cost, he said, should not be the DOT's only concern, noting that safety and emergency response time are important.

"While there's inconvenience with every construction project, these conditions depart from what we originally discussed with them and came as a surprise," Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni said.

Eliminating the temporary bridge raised several safety concerns, he said, because it would take more time for law enforcement to reach the island.

DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said residents' safety would not be in jeopardy during the eight-month project. EMS services will be stationed at a volunteer fire station on the island, she said, and there is a helicopter pad on the island if a patient needs to be airlifted.

Building a temporary bridge would cost $1-million, she said, including the cost of construction, traffic maintenance and securing the necessary rights of way.

It would more than double the time it would take to complete the project, she said. With the construction of a temporary bridge, she said, the project would take from 18 to 24 months.

"The cost has just escalated," she said. "And we're looking at the money part of it. Do we really want to spend a million extra taxpayer dollars?"

Gospel Island resident Robert Wheatley said building a temporary bridge would be worth the money.

The 49-year-old regularly travels to downtown Inverness for dialysis treatment. It usually takes him five minutes to reach State Road 44 from his home. A detour would be a "pain in the butt," he said.

"That would be terrible. They can't do that," Wheatley said. "That's a long way."

Bobbie Marek, 72, who lives in the Pritchard Island neighborhood right beside the bridge, said she'd be able to deal with a detour - but she wouldn't like it.

"It would be an inconvenience, especially with gas prices the way they are," she said.

DiGiovanni said he has contacted Rep. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, to ask for help. A spokesman for Dean said the representative plans to speak with DOT officials about the bridge.

Times photographer Max Bittle contributed to this report. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.

[Last modified September 10, 2005, 01:22:18]


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