MADEIRA BEACH — Saturday it will be official. Four years of construction on the new $77 million John's Pass Bridge is finally over.
"We are very thankful that the project is completed," said Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning, who is coordinating the opening ceremonies.
State, county and, of course, local beach officials and dignitaries will gather at 10 a.m. on the bridge's east overlook platform for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the occasion.
The invitation list also includes Gov. Charlie Crist and Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Minning did not know if they would be there.
"I am so excited. The state has given us a beautiful, beautiful bridge," said Madeira Beach Mayor Pat Shontz.
She said completion of construction also is a "wonderful relief" for John's Pass merchants whose business she said was hurt during the past four years.
The under-bridge pedestrian walk connecting the city's South Beach and the Village boardwalk and the 100-space parking lot at South Beach are also now open, said Madeira Beach City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr.
Before the weekend, he expects a stairway connecting the walkway to the Village boardwalk to be completed.
The bridge has been fully open to traffic since September, but it has taken several months to clean up the staging sites on both sides of the bridge.
"It is just so neat to see our South Beach Park open again. The parking lot was a construction staging area. The state has cleaned it up and put in new shrubbery and palm trees," Higginbotham said. "It's fantastic that people can now walk under the bridge and totally avoid the traffic on Gulf Boulevard."
The state Department of Transportation began the massive bridge replacement project in 2006.
About 17,000 drivers and pedestrians cross the bridge daily.
The design of the new bridge, which is expected to last about 100 years, went through many iterations and at one point included 12 options.
The new bridge is more than 30 feet high, about 8 feet higher than the old bridge, and the 100-foot-wide boat channel is 40 feet wider than the previous channel, allowing most boats to pass underneath without forcing the drawbridge to open.
Each side of the new bridge includes two 12-foot travel lanes, an 8-foot sidewalk for pedestrians and bicyclists, two observation decks to view either the Intracoastal or the Gulf of Mexico, and decorative street lighting.
The previous bridge, built in 1971, had to be replaced because of accumulated damage caused by currents in John's Pass. It was last rehabilitated in 1997.
The first bridge was built in 1927, almost 80 years after a hurricane cut John's Pass to physically separate Madeira Beach and Treasure Island.
Other events include a 9:30 a.m. continental breakfast in Madeira Beach's South Village parking lot at Gulf Boulevard and 129th Avenue.
The breakfast, provided by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., will include at least one confirmed guest — a Forrest Gump impersonator.
An all-day "Christmas at the Village" shopping event in John's Pass Village will be highlighted by a visit from Santa at the Village bell tower from noon to 4 p.m.
The Treasure Island side of the bridge will feature a "Toss for Tots" fundraiser for the Toys for Tots organization at Gator's Cafe & Saloon beginning at 1 p.m.
About 8 p.m., the 25th annual Treasure Island Lighted Boat parade will arrive at John's Pass.