Anna Maria Island seems to have survived the closure of one of its three bridges for 37 days. The maintenance and repair job was done faster than the projected 45-day project that had been planned. As islanders heave a sigh of relief, it is interesting to look back at the whole issue of bridges and how this is linked to life and business on an island.
The people who have chosen to retire on beautiful Anna Maria Island have chosen Old Florida over the more common new development that lines most of Florida’s coast. For Old Florida to exist there has to be something “missing,” in terms of accessibility and convenience. People who want to live fast and have instant gratification are not looking for Old Florida. Such people are accommodated very well by municipalities and developers who want to grow by catering to the latest trends, and catering to the crowds. An island with small bridges that are not always open is an island that is more likely to retain the charm of Old Florida. But what about those times the Florida retiree needs to get to the hospital fast?
Whenever the issue of bridges to Anna Maria Island comes up, there are many who express concern about how long it takes to get from the island to Blake Memorial Hospital, usually a 20-minute drive away. Whether a delay is caused by a raised draw-bridge or by traffic congestion on a two-lane bridge or by bridge closure for repair, concern about getting to the hospital is raised and used as an argument for having a high fixed span bridge.
This argument does not make sense when one thinks about the fact that many retirees choose to live in places that are more than twenty minutes from the closest hospital. Think of Anna Maria Island as being an hour away from a hospital. Certainly many would still choose to live here. That’s a safe estimate of the longest it could possibly take to get to Blake Hospital. That’s what it takes to live somewhere that has low density and rural charm. It seems worth it. And the fact that Anna Maria Island has three bridges means residents and visitors are much better of than residents of other islands, which may have only one bridge, or no bridge.
It is great news that the businesses of Anna Maria Island have not suffered too much during the bridge closure. And maybe those businesses should even celebrate the fact that access to the island isn’t too easy. If it were, the crowds would come, and, at first, business would be better. But then bigger competitive businesses would move in, and possibly run the mom and pop businesses out. And the charm of Old Florida, which is one of the biggest selling points of this lovely place, would be lost.