Cortezians prepare for bridge hearing

Cortez bridge
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 31 at 5 p.m. at Kirkwood Church on the replacement of the Cortez bridge. - Cindy Lane | Sun

CORTEZ – Approximately 30 citizens braved the thunderstorms Saturday afternoon at Fisherman’s Hall to discuss strategy for the final public hearing on a replacement for the Cortez Bridge set for Thursday, Aug. 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church.

Some of the speakers were veterans of confrontations with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) over replacement attempts to build large fixed-span bridges to replace the Anna Maria Island and Cortez drawbridges, including members of Save Anna Maria (SAM), the citizens’ action group formed to fight the AMI bridge replacement.

Artist Linda Molto talked about the earlier confrontations with FDOT, saying they don’t always tell the truth. Another FDOT foe felt the same way.

Cortez bridge hearing
Cortez artist Linda Molto addresses the meeting of residents on the Cortez Bridge. – Tom Vaught | Sun

“It’s a replay from 30 years ago,” said former Island newspaper editor Joe Kane. “This is still a democracy.”

The hearing is for FDOT to gather information from the public as to the future of the bridge. Choices are to replace the 17-foot clearance drawbridge with a 35-foot clearance drawbridge or a 65-foot clearance fixed-span structure.

Residents of the historic fishing village feel the high bridge is not suitable for Cortez and they worry that businesses along Cortez Road West would lose their roadside access.

SAM veteran Nancy Deal said FDOT will have a plan for the meeting, and so should the public.

“The first part of the meeting will be an open house with FDOT officials answering questions,” she said. “The second part will be a presentation and we need to make a list of talking points so we can ask questions while everyone is listening.”

Deal said they need to point out that recent thunderstorms forced the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to close because of high winds, one of the opposition’s arguments against the high bridge.

“County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said recently her car got blown around on a bridge during a storm,” Deal said.

Kane had a warning for the opposition not to give up too soon.

“They (FDOT) will make it sound like their decision is final, but it’s not,” he said.

For more information, visit FDOT’s study.