Matlacha Bridge opening hours change with onset of construction
For more than 40 years, the Matlacha Drawbridge has provided safe passage for vessels from dawn to dusk every day, however, once the construction of the replacement bridge commenced, the daylight hours were pared back.
With new, limited hours, some island boaters fear confusion and frustration, particularly for those who visit from out of the area.
“Our club has not yet become concerned about the limited bridge hours and have been reassured that we won’t have any problems when we hold our Christmas boat parade, but we are concerned for others who may not be aware about the change,” said Matlacha Yacht Club Commodore Jeff Mikkelsen.
Previously, the bridge house was manned and controlled by a bridge keeper from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Now the hours of operation are limited to 8 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 7 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
According to project coordinator Randy Cerchie, the change to the bridge hours came about during the contracting process.
“When the contractors began preparing for construction, one of the steps involved contacting the Coast Guard,” Cerchie said. “At that time, the contractors had been informed of the Coast Guard recommended operation hours for the bridge and this guideline was adopted at that time.”
On hearing of the time change, the members of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association put the subject on its meeting agenda for discussion.
“During our meeting, we discussed, among other subjects, the issue of not manning the Matlacha Bridge during the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” said Phil Buchanan. “Following the meeting I spoke with the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, who told me that they were told that the boaters could call a number during those hours and the county bridge tender contractor would have someone there within minutes to open the bridge.”
As it turned out, however, that would not be the case.
Buchanan then approached the county commissioners office and that of Cerchie.
“Phil and I are currently looking at a couple of options to resolve this problem,” Cerchie said. “There has been a lot of confusion, but we will find an answer soon.”
According to Buchanan, at this point he and Cerchie have had discussions with the contractor which has resulted in a proposal that the bridge open on the hour, every hour between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., in addition to the current schedule, if boats are waiting to pass.
“The compromise we have presented seems to me to be a reasonable solution,” Buchanan said. “I think the contractors have realized they made a mistake and are willing to work with us to fix it.”
In addition to the hourly openings, Buchanan also said there is talk about special provisions written in to cover specials events as well.