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City officials blast bridge decision

BRADENTON BEACH – City commissioners oppose the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) recent decision to replace the Cortez Bridge drawbridge with a 65-foot-tall, fixed-span structure.

Mayor John Chappie, a former Manatee County commissioner, placed the bridge discussion on the agenda for the Thursday, May 3, meeting so commissioners could share their thoughts in a public setting.

“When I was with the county, Commissioner (Carol) Whitmore and myself were the only two elected officials at the county level that flat-out said no, we did not want a high bridge. We wanted the low one of the three options they had,” Chappie said.

“I was disappointed. The Island has its character and it’s definitely not high structures. As we used to say years ago, ‘The trees are taller than the buildings.’ I know change is going to happen, but sometimes it’s just tough to take, this chipping away at the way things were,” Chappie said.

“I really don’t know if there’s anything we can do about it,” he added, noting that FDOT held several public meetings and gathered public input before making its decision.

Commissioner Jake Spooner suggested sending a letter to FDOT officials. Chappie agreed that it would be a good idea to at least officially voice the commission’s disappointment.

Spooner guessed it would be about 10 years before the funding was available to replace the existing drawbridge. Chappie estimated it might be 5 to 10 years, depending on what the federal government does in terms of passing legislation for infrastructure funding.

The Cortez Bridge was built in 1956.

“None of us want this thing, but what can we do?” Commissioner Randy White said.

White said he spoke with a resident of the Bridgeport condominiums who’s concerned the bridge will butt up against her home.

“Obviously not happy about this,” White said.

“I don’t know anybody who is,” Chappie replied.

White said a large bridge, similar to the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota, doesn’t make sense for a barrier island.

“I feel really bad for the people in Cortez,” he added.

Chappie said FDOT will want members of the Cortez and Bradenton Beach communities to serve on its yet-to-be-formed bridge aesthetics committee. He thinks it’s important for the City Commission and the Scenic WAVES Committee to be represented on that committee.

“Several members of our community should be on that. It’s the entrance to our city and it’s part of the CRA district,” Chappie said.

Commissioner Marilyn Maro said the people she’s talked to are not happy with the decision. She also mentioned the individual meetings city commissioners previously had with FDOT officials.

“They didn’t seem like they were going in that direction. I guess things must’ve changed since they talked to us,” Maro said.

Maro also expressed concerns about bridge users being exposed to higher winds, especially during storms.

“I thought they were leaning more toward the 35-foot mid-rise, with the drawbridge,” Commissioner Ralph Cole said.

“That one was $20-$30 million more. They’re trying to cut costs. They’re going with the cheap bridge,” White replied.

“Obviously they’re going for the maintenance end of it and they don’t have to maintain that span,” Cole added.

White said the fixed-span bridge would also eliminate the salaries paid to bridge tenders.

According to the April 23 press release issued by FDOT, “A fixed bridge is resoundingly the best financial investment for taxpayers. The initial construction cost, including design and construction, saves approximately $23.9 million compared to a new mid-level drawbridge. Over the 75-year life of the bridge, the fixed bridge also saves approximately $11.2 million in operating and maintenance costs compared to the drawbridge.”

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