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Matlacha Bridge construction still on time, within budget

April 4, 2012
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Pine Island Eagle

The construction of the Matlacha Bridge, which is currently on time and within budget, is expected to be completed in November of this year.

Sarah Clarke, Lee County Department of Transportation project manager, said the construction crew is currently working on setting the bascule leaf, which is the movable part of the bridge.

"We appreciate the partnering attitude of the Matlacha/Pine Island residents; this is a very constrained area even without major construction going on," she said.

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Archer Western Contractors is currently working on setting the bascule leaf, the movable part of the bridge.

On May 18, 2010, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners awarded an $18 million construction contract to Archer Western Contractors Ltd. for the replacement of the Matlacha Bridge. The construction began Oct. 11, 2010.

The project was approved by the commissioners because when looking at a 50-year period, the cost to keep the bridge maintained was greater than replacing it.

Some of the businesses that surround the bridge have thrived through the construction, while others have experienced a hit financially.

Ahren Surgent, owner of Gulfside Marine Service, said the construction has had a positive impact on his company. He said the construction company has supported him and his business by not being in the way.

"They help me stop traffic if I need to back a vehicle in my property," he said of the construction company.

In addition, any questions Surgent may have, the construction crew answers for him.

A common question among his customers is how to get their vehicle into his location. He advises his customers to park on the side of the road due to the ample space.

"They can get in the property that way," Surgent said.

The construction has not affected his business, which he said has been doing really well.

Diane Martini, manager of Bridge Water Inn, said she took over the management team in August with her husband. She said the first thing that she noticed was how greatly the inn was financially impacted over the last year.

"We were very slow in the fall, so we took time to renovate the whole inn to generate more people," Martini said.

The couple spent four months renovating the entire inn, which now includes a nautical theme throughout the rooms. More renovations are expected to take place in the spring.

Martini said they had a giant list of faithful guests that stayed at the inn even with the construction taking place, but new guests were not coming due to the bridge work.

Right after Christmas an email blast was sent out, which occurred after the loud noise associated with the construction of the bridge concluded.

Martini said they have done more business in February and March of this year than they had in 2007.

The managers of Bridge Water Inn have seen some improvements since the construction began to the marine life surrounding the property. Martini said the fishing is better than before, with large snook and mullet with millions of baby mullet close by the inn.

On the flip side, Martini said they have to do more cleaning than they normally do because the dust level has been ridiculous since the start of the construction. She said they also have to rent the house next door to gain six parking sports for their guests.

"I am holding on and making the best of it," Martini said.

Although the construction has been a nuisance, Martini said the workers have been very considerate and nice. She said they always let them know what they are doing.

A fill-in special for the inn is being held, which can be viewed at

Deb Cole, manager of Bert's Pine Bay Gallery, said although she gets a lot of questions from customers regarding the bridge construction, she has not experienced any fewer customers than previous years.

"Our season has been better than ever," she said.

The customers, Cole said, continue to walk across the bridge like they always have.

"People are asking when it is supposed to be done," she said. "They all are interested to see how it turns out. They will be back."

Cole said she thinks everyone will be pleased with the results once the construction is completed.

Andy's Island Seafood also has not been affected by the bridge construction.

Brian Urso, co-owner of Andy's Island Seafood, said he has not had a hard time with the bridge construction.

"When they first started, I did," he said. "After that, it has really not been a problem."

The construction, Urso said, does not really affect his business because he is before the bridge.

"Business has been great," he said, adding that the guys working on the bridge buy lunch and drinks from him throughout the week. "Things have been great."

A Matlacha business that opened toward the end of last year has not been affected too much by the construction.

Linda Seibert, owner of Yellowdog Boutique and Gallery, said she opened the store in September 2011 and began cottage rentals in late December, so she really does not have anything to go off of from last year in terms of how the business is doing. With that being said, she said she has had people cancel after making reservations because they were concerned about the construction noise.

Seibert said although they have had a few cancellations, she has had good occupancy for January, February and March. Things are beginning to slow down going into April.

Concerning the boutique and gallery, on the other hand, she said she expected a little more traffic.

"I certainly hear that people don't like walking over the bridge because of the construction," Seibert said.

The lack of visibility has had a financial impact on Gold Key Properties Inc. Owner Marty Yeatter said her business has been blocked out consistently making it hard for folks to find their way to the front door. She said finding the entrance has also been difficult for people who have been going to her business for years.

"One side is the staging area and the other side is the parking lot," Yeatter said. "It is impossible to see us."

In addition, the frequent loading and unloading of construction equipment and supplies has blocked much of her parking lot as well.

"Our business is down," Yeatter said. "The people are not coming in that are usually coming in."

She said she is looking forward to the day the construction is completed.

"After it is finished, it will be much nicer," Yeatter said. "We will have better visibility, the road will be closer to us."

Jim Frock, the owner of Seven Seas Bait and Tackle, has also seen an impact on his business. He said the construction makes it difficult to get in and out of the store and drivers are distracted with what they are doing because of the lane changes.

Since the construction began, he said he has seen a decline in the amount of people fishing off the bridge, which, in turn, has affected his business.

"The construction work took up all the parking places, so there is no place to park to fish off the bridge," Frock said, adding that he hopes there will be places to park once the construction is over.

Frock said he is looking forward to November when the construction is done.

Information is constantly updated on the website for those interested in monitoring the progress of the bridge.



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