FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A major bridge project is making progress in Fort Pierce.
City leaders on Monday heard the latest plans to completely rebuild the 57-year-old North Causeway Bridge at an estimated cost of $76 million, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.
FDOT officials said the bridge is being replaced due to structural deficiencies, functional obsolescence and traffic impacts caused by the draw bridge.
A new plan calls for doing away with the draw bridge and building a longer, higher, more reliable bridge.
"I'm excited about this new bridge. I'm excited about this design," said Fort Pierce Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson.
The bridge would extend from the current 2,100 feet to 4,152 feet, rise from 26 feet to 85 feet and include a 300-foot long observation deck beneath the bridge.
The bridge would include designated bike and pedestrian lanes with lighting.
There will also be a ramp to connect the bridge to the pedestrian East Coast Greenway trail, which Johnson said brings its own benefits to the city.
"It is going to create a space for our greenways and trails, which is from Maine to Key West," said Johnson. "By building a trail on the bridge and then an off-ramp to offload those tourists or residents that are utilizing the trail, it's going to create more activity for the businesses that are on Old Dixie Highway at the connection of the bridge and U.S. 1 or below the bridge."
Additionally, Juanita Avenue will extend 520 additional feet to span beyond U.S. 1 to Dixie Highway.
Sunny Lane will extend 500 additional feet to also span beyond U.S. 1 east to Dixie Highway, providing for more connectivity to the bridge.
There will also be a new access road to North Causeway Island Park and a new access road for Harbortown Marina and nearby businesses.
Johnson said residents and businesses along North Hutchinson Island will benefit from eliminating the draw bridge.
"We have to worry about mechanical failures," said Johnson. "They have to do routine maintenance, so it's an inconvenience to city and county residents and if you can create a more reliable system, why wouldn't we do that?"
Commissioner Reggie Sessions expressed concerns about the bridge plan not incorporating a designated fishing area.
"A lot of people could care less about the bridge in its present state, but it is going to hit them detrimentally to not be able to fish from that bridge," said Sessions.
The FDOT does not oversee fishing areas, but Johnson said that concern will be explored.
Transportation officials are aiming to have a public hearing in September or October. The construction could begin by January 2022, with the project taking nearly six years to complete.
"Six years, that's a very short time to wait for a bridge that's going to be here 40, 50, 60 years," said Johnson.