Surrounded by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Venice, FL, is modernizing its sleepy, tropical island image through road and bridge construction and much-needed rehabilitation.
The $68-million U.S. 41 project, which began in April 2001, is progressing ahead of schedule, said Mary Ellen Norton, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) public information officer, and should be complete by January 2005.
Divided into two contracts — north and south — the project currently involves the widening of U.S. 41 throughout Venice’s business district and also the construction of a new, four-lane drawbridge replacing the Hatchett Creek Bridge.
Opening to traffic in November 2002, the first span of the drawbridge is complete, and the second span is currently under construction.
“Venice is a fast growing area of the country, with quite a large elderly population. It’s also very seasonal. November through April is peak season when it’s particularly important to have a smooth traffic flow,” said Norton. “During this past winter we were able to see just how much of this construction has already helped.”
The previous Hatchett Creek Bridge, which crosses the intracoastal highway, would open for boats numerous times a day, noted Norton. At 30 ft. (9.1 m), the new bridge is 14 ft. (4.3 m) higher than the old bridge.
“According to the study we did comparing traffic during the period of January through May 2002 with the same period in 2003, with just one new span being open, it [construction] has already reduced the number of bridge openings by 60 percent. This has significantly decreased wait time for both boat and vehicular traffic,” she said.
The north section of the U.S. 41 project is headed by GLF Construction, Miami. The company has two American Crane 9310s in use for bridge construction — pile driving, pouring concrete and setting the girders. Crews also are using a Caterpillar 950 loader and a John Deere 544 frontend loader for dirt moving. The company purchases most of its own equipment but is renting the cranes for the current project from M.D. Moody & Sons Inc. in Tampa, FL.
Stretching 2.5 mi. (4 km), the U.S. 41 construction cuts into business and residential areas, thereby presenting challenges, said Norton, noting that despite the road widening “The community has been cooperative and helpful in working with us through construction.”
GLF did run into one unexpected obstacle, said Jack Chenneville, GLF construction manager. “There was an old, abandoned railroad bridge that we thought had been removed when they built the original [Hatchett Creek] bridge. We had to bring the engineers back to redesign the structure to build over and hide the railroad.”
Chenneville said that obtaining a blasting permit did temporarily hold the company up. “Anymore, the state of Florida typically puts in a ’no blasting’ clause, and it’s up to the contractor to get it changed,” he said, noting that the company is meeting the deadline.
Johnson Brothers Construction, Orlando, FL, is working on the south section of the project, which is divided into two roadway segments — the first one began in July 2002 and the second is slated to begin this fall.
“The project is moving along pretty well,” said Steve Strohm, Johnson Brothers project manager. “We’ve got somewhere around 20 or more workers on site each day, and we’re not expecting any setbacks. We’ve had certain lane closure restrictions that have worked for all concerned.”
To minimize the impact on businesses and residents, lane closures on the south section have been scaled back to between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. To ensure businesses are accessible to the community, driveway construction will be kept to half of each driveway being constructed at a time. In addition, access signs will be installed along Business Route 41 while construction operations are in front of the business driveway.
On each side of the new downtown roadways, crews will install 8-ft. (2.4 m) sidewalks. Downtown bike paths have been rerouted, and a pedestrian island will be installed in the median near the local hospital.