A fisherman digs for sand fleas last week along the shore
next to the Cortez Bridge. Dense fog slowed traffic on the
bridge during two morning rush hours, but no serious
problems were reported. Island residents should begin
considering what kind of replacement they want for the
54-year-old drawbridge, planning officials say.
BRADENTON BEACH – As the seagulls swoop down over the roadway, traffic arms come down, a siren sounds and the center span slowly lifts as it has day after day since 1957, when the Cortez Bridge was completed. Time is now running out for the drawbridge and the latest five-year plan for roadwork in Sarasota and Manatee Counties includes money in fiscal year 2012-13 for a study of a replacement.
"There is $1.5 million budgeted for a project development and environmental (PD&E) study for a new bridge there," Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Mike Howe said. "We will hold public meetings to get input on alternatives for the bridge including what type of study, whether it is a 45-foot tall drawbridge or a 70-foot high fixed span, the alignment of the roadway and other decisions that will be on the table."
Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger points out that the replacement would have to be a low-rise drawbridge.
"I think the size of the bridge is pretty much dictated by space," he said, referring to the fact that the Cortez Bridge is much shorter, partly because the Island is much narrower than at the Anna Maria Island Bridge, which is already slated to be replaced by a high, fixed-span in 15 to 20 years.
"Obviously, I don't disagree," Howe said. "The Cortez Bridge has a much different footprint from the Anna Maria Bridge."
Howe said Island residents might want to start considering what type of bridge they would like to see there.
"FDOT wants to build the type of bridge that would go well with the characteristics of Bradenton Beach and the southern part of the Island," he said. At this point there are no construction cost estimates for the different types of bridges that will be included in the study.
Meanwhile, repair and rehabilitation work on the Cortez Bridge is scheduled for 2012-2013 at a cost of $5.91 million. The exact starting date for this interim project was not available.
Howe did say it takes about 10 years from the time the study is done until replacement construction can begin. The repairs slated for next year would extend the life of the bridge by about 10 years, he said. That could put the start of the project sometime around 2022-2023.
The last time FDOT considered replacing the bridge was in the late 1980s, but there was public sentiment against building a tall bridge because the space for a bridge is short and the grade to get up to a 65 feet crown would be too steep. FDOT abandoned those plans and instead concentrated on plans for a high, fixed-span for Anna Maria Island Bridge, the other access to the Island from the mainland.
Public sentiment and mistakes by FDOT put an end to those plans in 1994, and the state settled for rebuilding the current structure. However, they performed a PD&E study on a replacement for the Anna Maria Bridge in 2008 at the request of elected officials, who were appalled that the state was going to do a $10.3 million refurbishment that would have required the bridge to be closed for several weeks. They felt the money would be better spent on a replacement for the bridge, but the state could not come up with the $50 to $75 million for the replacement.
Eventually, the repairs were made and the work closed the bridge from Sept. 29 to Nov. 6, 2008.
Other projects on the five-year plan include:
• $315,357 in the 2012-13 budget year for a parking lot off State Road 64 and a walkway from the parking lot and under the bridge to connect with the boardwalk to Robinson Preserve;
• $1.97 million in 2013/14 for resurfacing SR 64 from Perico Bay to Palma Sola Blvd.;
• $840,054 in 2011-12 for resurfacing SR 64 from east of Perico Harbor to east of Bristol Bay;
• $1.584 million in 2011-12 for repair and rehabilitation of the Longboat Pass Bridge;
• $289,486 in 2012-13 for miscellaneous construction at Coquina Beach;
• $678,214 in 2012-2014 for landscaping on East Bay Drive from 31st Street to SR 64.