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Bridge update due Tuesday

State officials and consultants working on the new John's Pass Bridge will meet with the Madeira Beach and Treasure Island councils Tuesday to update them on the $55.9-million project.

The meetings are open to the public.

"It's pretty much an update to where we are in design, an update in the funding, and where we are in schedule," said Adam Perez, the Florida Department of Transportation's project manager who estimated that the design process was 60 percent complete.

The starting points of the roadway approaches, which had been a contentious issue, will remain mostly the same, Perez said.

"Access to the businesses should remain the same as it is today," he said.

Perez said construction of the wider, taller bridge should begin in fall 2005, after the 3-year-long project is opened for bidding in June 2005. The new bridge will have a navigation channel of 100 feet, instead of 60 feet, allowing wide boats to pass through more comfortably. The design will change the height of the bridge's center from 25.1 feet to 33.5 feet.

Hopefully, the taller bridge will reduce the traffic jams caused by passing boats, said Patricia Hubbard of Hubbard Enterprises. The bridge rises on demand whenever a large boat comes by so that the boats don't have to wait in the harsh currents of John's Pass.

Hubbard, who lives in Treasure Island and works in Madeira Beach, said the long traffic jams and the bridge's occasional mechanical failures make her consider other options.

"Sometimes I've been tempted," she said. "I call my brother and I say, "Come and get me, I need a boat.' "

Hubbard was one of eight residents and officials _ four from both Madeira Beach and Treasure Island _ who served on the Aesthetics Advisory Committee, which will have its recommendations presented Tuesday. The committee suggested building four observation decks that jut out of the bridge, allowing people to fish, rest or just enjoy the scenery.

"They're going to fish off the bridge, so you might as well give them a spot," Hubbard said.

The bridge's railings will run horizontally, not vertically, so that passers-by have a better view. The committee also chose a teal color scheme for the railings and tender house.

The committee is still considering possible decorations for the bridge, including designs of sea creatures on the retaining walls and city logos on the pillars, said Peter Volmar, an architect on the committee.

"From an architect's point of view, I thought it was a great structure," Volmar said. "Aesthetically, I really thought it was going to be a prize-winner."

The current bridge, which was built in 1971, needs to be replaced because of the damage the currents have inflicted on it over the years, said Madeira Beach City Manager Jim Madden.

With better construction, the new bridge should last 50 to 75 years, Madden said. "If we don't get it done soon, we may not have a bridge."