A bridge too far?

Castles in the Sand

What now? After more than two decades of discussions about the pros and cons of a tall, fixed-span bridge connecting the mainland with Anna Maria Island, we’re now getting not just one bridge, but two.

The Florida Department of Transportation has finally made its decision after multiple meetings, surveys and pushback from Cortez residents regarding the correct bridge design and height to build. As we now know, the decision is a 65-foot, fixed-span bridge to replace the existing Cortez drawbridge, matching the planned and previously approved Anna Maria Island Bridge.

As of now we don’t have any time frame on when these bridges may be built. The Anna Maria Island Bridge has been in the design stage since 2015 and, of course, the Cortez Bridge design stage hasn’t even started. The funding for both bridges is still in the unfunded status on FDOT’s websites.

My guess is that although we all may be concerned with how tall bridges will change the face and style of Anna Maria Island, Cortez and the western edge of the mainland, probably what most homeowners are really concerned about is how such a massive change to our lifestyle will affect their property values.

As much as it pains me to say this, the face of Anna Maria Island and surrounding areas has already been transformed substantially in the 20 years I’ve been living here and frankly, I don’t see any way to stop further change. When I look out my window and see tour boats, paddleboards and jet skies buzzing by every few minutes it breaks my heart, but has it changed my property value? The answer is no; nor do I believe a tall bridge will degrade property values either.

Before you start writing your letter to the editor, hear me out. Granted there will be an impact to the historic Cortez village and also to residents on the north side of Cortez Road, but after attending FDOT’s August meeting I was reasonably satisfied that access for residents and visitors on both sides of Cortez Road has been accommodated. Details are available here on the Cortez Bridge project.

Nothing is perfect, not the least of which is the traffic on Cortez Road going westbound and sometimes backing up beyond 86th Street. On more than one occasion, I’ve thought, what do potential buyers think if they’re considering a purchase on either side of Cortez Road or Anna Maria Island? Most of this season and frequently off-season traffic jams are caused by bridge openings every 30 minutes, especially when it takes at least 15 minutes to get moving again after the bridge is closed.

As far as property values in the three cities on Anna Maria Island, let me refer you to my May 2 analysis of $1 million and over properties, both recently sold and currently listed. Will a pair of tall bridges that have the potential to move traffic faster on and off the Island eliminate our million and multi-million-dollar properties? Not likely.

This may be a good time to take a step back and breath deeply before assuming that property values are going to be negatively affected by either one of these bridges. And as far as changing the character and charm of the area, that’s already been altered and continues to be in flux for a variety of reasons.

I don’t like what has happened to Anna Maria Island either, I miss the small town beachy feel driving along Gulf Drive that I discovered 25 years ago. However, it is indeed a paradise and always will be. Tall bridge or no tall bridge we’re still fortunate to call it home.