Sing praises of new Gospel Island bridge

A Times Editorial
Published February 15, 2007

For those who have been holding their breath in hopes that the detour caused by rebuilding the Gospel Island bridge would not lead to a public safety tragedy, the time has come to exhale.

The rickety wooden bridge has been replaced by a solid concrete structure, and traffic is flowing once again.

Most importantly, the worst-case scenarios thrown about while the project was being debated did not come to fruition. No one on Gospel Island died because detoured emergency vehicles could not get to them in time.

This is not to say that the last six months have been easy for residents who have had to drive 8 miles or more out of their way to reach downtown Inverness. Things like deliveries and school buses have been impacted.

But these inconveniences have been a small price to pay for a new $3.2-million bridge that replaces a 55-year-old structure that was in terrible shape and getting worse.

The Florida Department of Transportation incurred a heavy dose of criticism from residents when it withdrew plans to erect a temporary bridge at the site while the permanent span was being built. Officials said the cost of the temporary bridge, $1.3-million, was prohibitive. Plus, it would have added at least 10 months to the construction project.

Residents balked, saying that emergency vehicles would take longer getting to their neighborhood because of the detour. The county responded by moving emergency equipment and personnel into a station on Gospel Island.

The project was expected to take eight months but the contractor, angling for a financial incentive the state offered for getting done early, wrapped up the work well ahead of schedule.

The result is a bridge that is sturdier for vehicles while easier for the boaters who pass below and safer for the pedestrians and anglers who use the walkways. The bridge is higher and the spans are wider; guardrails now protect the walkers.

Ironically, for all of the concerns that the project would harm the residents, one aspect of the construction actually improved public safety. For the duration of the detour, a temporary traffic signal was installed at County Road 470 and State Road 44 E. Now that the work is done, the signal has been taken down.

State Rep. Charlie Dean, who lives on Gospel Island and who was instrumental in getting the temporary traffic signal installed months ago, has requested that the signal be reinstalled. The state should follow those wishes and put up a permanent traffic light at that busy intersection.

Doing so would be a fitting conclusion to a needed public works project that came in on budget, ahead of schedule and with minimal distress to the community.