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Matlacha Bridge project delays irk county, busines...
Matlacha Bridge project delays irk county, busines...: Construction on the Matlacha Bridge is expected to wrap in August — 10 months after it was originally slated to be done — and the county why it took so long. Video by Andrew West/news-press.com
Stephen Bannworth fishes from the new Matlacha Bridge. While the bridge is done, work on ancillary projects is not. The county hopes the project will be over in August; the contractor isn't promising that. / Andrew West/news-press.com
A classic Chevrolet crosses the Matlacha Bridge recently. / photos by Andrew West/The News-Press

By the numbers


1927
Timber bridge constructed
1968
Another bridge constructed
2010-12
New bridge construction
$17.8 m
Cost for new bridge
4 feet
New bridge’s width gain
11 feet
Width of new lanes
50 feet
Clearance width under bridge
9 feet
Vertical clearance under bridge

More

Construction on the Matlacha Bridge is expected to wrap in August — 10 months after it was originally slated to be done — and the county isn’t sure what’s taking so long. As a result, it could seek millions in damages from the contractor.

While the bridge opened in mid-November, crews are still removing the rest of the old bridge and performing shoreline restoration. The drawbridge connects Cape Coral to Matlacha.

“The contractor has, in our opinion, not completed the project in the time allotted,” said Randy Cerchie, deputy director of the Lee County Department of Transportation, in an email.

“We've granted additional days according to provisions in the contract to do so – weather (delays), added work through change orders, etc.,” he continued. “I don't have the answer as to why they are 10 months late.”

The county’s contract with the company, Archer Western Contractors, states the county is eligible for damages in the amount of $8,537 per day if work isn’t finished in the agreed-upon time frame. This is Archer Western’s first project for the county.

Cerchie said the various change orders — which include installing signs, repainting crosswalks and repairing potholes — and adverse weather account for about a month of delays but can’t provide a reason for the remaining hold-ups. If the county seeks nine months of damages, the total could top $2.3 million.

Dhaval Gandhi, project manager for Archer Western, declined to comment on the delays. Gandhi first said county officials instructed the company not to speak about the matter and referred questions to them but then cited company policy.

After an interview with Cerchie, the county also clammed up. In response to several followup questions, Betsy Clayton, county spokeswoman, released a statement, which reads in part: “Due to the status of this project and the potential, imminent legal issues, staff was advised this week by the County Attorney's Office not to provide additional comments concerning the matter.”

Work began on the new bridge in October 2010 and was budgeted at $17.8 million. Since then, $637,732 has been added to the cost and Cerchie said Archer Western has made claims for an additional $800,000 to $900,000.

(Page 2 of 3)

Some items the county agrees with, he said, such as a new tinted window for the tender house that had to be ordered because the contract called for the wrong kind. But most are being disputed. They will be discussed, along with damages, once the work is complete, Cerchie said.

Other claims — which as of late last month totaled 49 — include a potential delay due to tornadoes in Alabama, an issue with roofing material availability and interference of the old bridge in the installation of a piece on the new bridge.

Another potential reason for delay is an issue discovered with the bridge’s trunnion, which rotates as part of the mechanism to open and close the bridge. The piece began making noise when workers were testing the bridge by opening and closing it 240 times. Clayton declined to answer questions about how the trunnion issue was resolved, citing instructions from the county attorney’s office.

Ghandi said whether crews will finish in August, as the county hopes, depends on how difficult it is to remove portions of the original timber bridge constructed in 1927. When removing the more recent bridge, built in 1968, workers were surprised to discover pieces of the nearly century-old structure, he said.

In mid-July, the plan is to repave the roadway on both sides leading to the bridge, he said.

He also confirmed that an email received last year alleging workers were using marijuana, drinking and ignoring regulations to protect manatees had been investigated — including through random drug testing — and found to have no merit.

Brian Urso, co-owner of Andy’s Island Seafood, which sits near the eastern base of the bridge, said he can’t wait for construction to finish. Urso said he’s asked workers not to park in his lot, but they’ve ignored him. Large trucks have created cracks all over the lot and a drainage ditch installed in front of the property has made it difficult for some cars to enter, he said.

“I’m at my wit’s end with them,” he said.

All but two county road projects that have finished behind schedule and resulted in damages in the last five years remain unresolved, according to Dave Loveland, director of the county’s Transportation Department.

(Page 3 of 3)

In one of the settled cases, involving the widening of Colonial Boulevard from west of I-75 to State Road 82, the county was reimbursed $632,344 for the increased cost of construction engineering and inspection due to the failure of Posen Construction to complete the project on time, according to county documents. Posen finished in December of 2011, 209 days behind schedule, even after 124 days were granted for weather and additional work.

In the other case, Phoenix Construction was 234 days late in widening Summerlin Road from San Carlos Boulevard to Gladiolus Drive, Loveland said in a statement forwarded by Clayton. With a daily penalty of $9,758 baked into the contract for late work, the county could’ve seen nearly $2.3 million in damages but negotiated an amount of $228,000, Loveland said.

The county is also locked in a legal battle with Posen Construction over the widening of Summerlin Road between Cypress Lake Drive and Boy Scout Drive beginning in 2008. Asbestos, a known carcinogen, was discovered in fill material during that project and the company argues in its lawsuit against the county that the county approved the material before eventually deeming it unfit and demanding removal at the company’s expense.

In December, meanwhile, pieces of the old Matlacha Bridge began being loaded for transport three miles out to Novak Reef, where they were used to create an artificial reef.

Tina Bush, co-founder of the Matlacha Bridge Reef Project, said the southern portion of the Novak Reef was renamed the Matlacha Bridge Reef.

Three hundred tons of debris from the bridge were transported in two loads carried by barge in late December and mid-January, Bush said.

They plan to host a dive to check on the reef this month and hope to find snapper, grouper and some small shark varieties taking to the reef, she said.

“We’re just happy that the bridge was used for something and part of it, at least, was preserved,” she said. “…I think anyone who’s lived on the island or has been out here has a connection to the bridge. Going across that bridge was like going home.”

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