A Bridge Over 100 Years In the Making

The 2,318-foot long Fort Hamer Bridge crosses the Manatee River and its design utilizes some impressive new approaches

By Brianna Fries

In the year of 1909, a proposal was given to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners that suggested that a bridge be built over the Manatee River. While the bridge was a needed piece of infrastructure, opposition and a lack of funding shut the project down, despite ideas to fund the project with a road bond for the bridge’s construction. The proposal for the bridge was laid to rest until, in 1989, it was brought back before the Manatee County Board again and approved. The original idea for the Fort Hamer Bridge in Parrish, Florida was brought up over 100 years ago and, despite its initial defeat, the project has been completed at long last.

The original idea for the Ft. Hamer Bridge was proposed in 1909 but the plan was not approved until the 1980s.
How the Ft. Hamer Bridge Was Made

The project officially began with the approval of the Board of County Commission in 2009. Once approval was obtained, Manatee County staff members were able to advertise for a consultant to design the bridge. Advertising for construction started in 2014 and actual construction on the bridge began in March of 2015.

The long-awaited completion of the bridge was accomplished through the collaboration of the County, contractor, design firm, and the Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) firm. Coordination between the County, contractor, design firm, and CEI was handled through biweekly meetings held at the bridge site while daily operations were handled on-site with the CEI firm.

After several decades, Fort Hamer Bridge, located in Manatee County, and spanning across the Manatee River, was completed in August 2017 and officially opened to traffic on October 18, 2017. The cost of the bridge totaled $23,495,567; added to the additional costs accrued from required improvements along the UMRR and Fort Hamer Road, the final overall project cost was over $32 million.

Features of the Bridge

Manatee County has waited a long time for the Ft. Hamer Bridge to be built, so they made sure that, when the project was finally approved, they were going to make it count. From the bridge’s length to some of the new technology it uses, it is a welcome new piece of infrastructure in the region.

The concrete substructure units were constructed with two- or three-column pier structures.

The bridge spans a total of 2,318 feet across the Manatee River, making it the longest bridge that Manatee County will have ever had to design and maintain. The Ft. Hamer Bridge is an 18-span bridge that was constructed with a reverse-curved alignment and was made to have a navigation clearance of 26 feet above Mean High Water (MHW) level, which also provided the added bonus of allowing those using the bridge to enjoy an expansive view of the beautiful river and landscape around them. The bridge’s spans were constructed using three-span continuous units, with span lengths ranging between 100 and 134 feet in length for the standard spans, and up to 144 feet in length for the main channel spans. Span lengths were arranged to minimize the impact of the substructure units on the surrounding waterway and wetlands.

Ft. Hamer Bridge is located in Manatee County in Parris, Florida.

Speaking of the substructure, the concrete substructure units were constructed with two- or three-column pier structures, which included aesthetic striations on the faces of the columns. Additionally, the upper portion of the columns was made to be adjacent to the piers to enhance the appearance of the bridge from below.

As for the superstructure of the bridge, Nicholas Azzara, Information Outreach Manager for Manatee County, explains, “Superstructure units consist of concrete decks supported by 72-inch deep pre-stressed concrete Florida I-Beams, which was the County’s first use of the new standard Florida precast concrete beams. In addition, the pre-stressed concrete beams were designed with higher strengths at 8,500 psi to maximize the efficiency of the span arrangements.”

To cap it all off, the concrete mix design used silica fume additives to be included at least 12 feet above the MHW level to ensure the bridge’s long-term corrosion protection and durability.

Smart signals are being used for the bridge’s traffic lights to help keep traffic moving smoothly and accrue traffic data.

Along with a wonderful design and well-thought concrete mix, the bridge will offer additional details that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers will enjoy. The structure, which includes two traffic lanes, will also incorporate paved bike lanes, improved shoulders, and sidewalks on the bridge’s eastern side.

“The main goal of the project was to create another north/south corridor to help move traffic and allow another access point for emergency vehicles traveling to and from the Parish area,” stated Azzara.

Overcoming Obstacles and Embracing New Ideas

Every project has different challenges. The main challenge for the Ft. Hamer Bridge project was making sure that they took the environment into account.

“The design occurred across the Manatee River, so environmental impacts were a major concern,” Azzara added. “Several alignments were studied to determine the one with the least environmental impacts.”

The bridge’s alignment design also took the environment into consideration and was the design that would have the least impact.

The bridge’s construction had to work within the river’s environmental limits including driving piles, the formation and pouring of pile caps and piers, the bridge being built from the embankment, and more.

The concrete mix design used silica fume additives to be included at least 12 feet above the MHW level to ensure the bridge’s long-term corrosion protection and durability.

The County also sought to include some new technology when they built the bridge: Smart traffic signals. They were able to implement the Smart signals in the corridor leading up to, and away from, the bridge. Azzara detailed, “These Smart signals feature the ability to monitor traffic from our offices in town and modify timing as necessary to keep traffic moving in an efficient manner. Further, we can accrue traffic counts daily to help determine what future modifications are necessary.”

It is easy to see that sometimes a good piece of infrastructure is worth the wait, especially when the final product is as well done as the Ft. Hamer Bridge.

Brianna Fries is an Assistant Editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at brianna@penpubinc.com.