As of the end of last month, after nearly three years and thousands of dollars in extra costs, the Matlacha Bridge is still not finished.
In early July, county officials sent a stern warning and a deadline to the contractor, Archer Western, to finish the bridge or face stern consequences. The deadline was Friday, July 26.
Once again the deadline has passed, the bridge is still unfinished, a portion of the old bridge is still there and business owners are suffering the consequences.
Several businesses close to the construction site have been significantly affected by the construction and delays.
When asked if the bridge construction affected her business. Marty Yeatter, owner of Gold Key Properties said, "Oh my gosh! Incredibly! If you had been here a few weeks ago there were still barrels out front. It was only a week ago Monday that they paved the street. Before that it was just mud and when it rained we got all the runoff from the bridge. It was like a river coming off the bridge. Last week was the first relief we've had."
Bernard Johnson, owner of Bert's Bar said, "The real problem isn't that it took almost three years, but that it took three seasons. The completion date was supposed to be last November. That would have been two seasons. Now we're into the third season, which was supposed to be a 'recovery'season where businesses could start to recover from the two construction years. But those businesses are being damaged for a third season and for some it's really hurt them."
"I also believe with all the news coverage that tourists, even local tourists from Fort Myers and Cape Coral, avoided coming here," he continued. "The reports of all the troubles discouraged them."
He went on to say, "The parking situation was horrendous. I have to say the contractor was responsive to our phone calls about construction vehicles blocking our parking lot but towards the end we had to call them every day to move their trucks.
"If the county does seek relief like some reports say they will, maybe the county could spread the recovered money among those businesses that were hurt by all this."
Jim Frock, owner of Seven Seas Bait and Tackle said, "This has impacted my business much more than I anticipated. I've been here since 1995 and the last three years have been the worst three years since I bought the business 18 years ago. The biggest problem for me is that they took away all of the parking. There's no place for people to park, buy bait and go fishing."
The project started in October 2010 and was expected to be completed in two years. As the three-year anniversary approaches, it's beginning to look like the contractor will need more time.
Lee County staff says removal of the old bridge is still not complete and work underneath the new one is still in progress.
The county has threatened to turn the project over to its surety company seeking more than $2.1 million in damages.