When plans to replace a bascule bridge spanning Sarasota Bay were announced in the early 1990s, concerns about environmental impacts were high. The old drawbridge, connecting downtown Sarasota with Bird Key and St Armands Circle, crossed an Outstanding Florida Waterway and estuary of national significance. The new bridge would be taller to let boats pass underneath and wider to provide additional traffic lanes. Finding the right team to conduct the environmental assessments was a top priority.
SCHEDA’s transportation expertise landed the natural environmental assignment as a subconsultant to Greiner (now URS). Hired to assist with the initial corridor study and evaluation of replacement alternatives, the firm’s work led to a succession of engagements that continued through opening day more than a decade later. In the formative stages, SCHEDA collected and analyzed extensive environmental data to assist in selecting the best bridge replacement alternative. That entailed seagrass mapping using aerial photography and groundtruthing, identifying wetland and plant and animal communities within the project corridor, and threatened and endangered species surveys, along with existing land use studies and an impact analysis.
As part of the final bridge design, SCHEDA scientists worked with surveyors to document seagrass edges near the impact areas. The firm also developed and coordinated the submittal of permitting applications to agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and Southwest Florida Water Management District.
The firm also coordinated a manatee and marine mammal watch during the blasting of the old bridge, with people stationed on land and in boats, to spot and reroute animals at risk.
The new Ringling Bridge is an architectural icon on the downtown Sarasota waterfront. “The potential for environmental impacts was huge,” said Sandy Scheda, president of Scheda Ecological Associates. “We were able to provide environmental continuity from beginning to end, and are very proud of the end result.”