Crowd tells FDOT what kind of Cortez Bridge it wants

Cortez bridge public input
Citizens may add their views on the Cortez Bridge by sending them to Marlon Bizerra, Project Manager, Florida Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow, FL 33831 or e-mail [email protected] by Sept. 12.

BRADENTON – The meeting hall at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church was packed with approximately 170 people Thursday night as the public got its final say on the future of the Cortez Bridge.

The current structure is a drawbridge with a 17 1/2 foot clearance built in 1956 along the route of the original wooden bridge to the Island. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has ruled the bridge is functionally obsolete because it only has two lanes and is made from materials not used in modern bridges.

FDOT pared down a number of choices to three: a high-level, fixed span with a 65-foot high clearance; a mid-level drawbridge with a 35-foot clearance; and a no-build repair project, with the most likely choice being between the two new bridges. After two years of public input, the fixed span option has the edge in polls taken at previous hearings. Most of the speakers at Thursday’s meeting appeared to favor a mid-level drawbridge.

FDOT came prepared to push the fixed span with depictions of the two bridges on placards and in videos. They estimate the cost of the mid-level bridge at more than $104 million compared to more than $72 million for the tall bridge. They pointed out the landings for the two bridges were essentially the same and they compared the open-air view with the high bridge to the crowded look with the low bridge, but many Cortez residents felt the tall bridge was out of place with the historic fishing village.

The public speaks

FDOT project manager Marlon Bizerra spoke about the low bridge being vulnerable to storm surge. Former Save Anna Maria (SAM) member Nancy Deal noted that Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore complained recently that her car was almost blown into another car recently when the winds started gusting and she said a tall bridge would make traffic more exposed to high winds as a storm approaches.

As for the idea that a tall bridge would keep traffic flowing, she said, “We don’t care about getting 150,000 more people on the island.”

Robert Baker, from the Island, said the tall bridge wouldn’t be worth the increased traffic flow.

“I don’t like the 65-foot bridge, I like the 35-foot drawbridge,” he said.

“A high wind would blow cars off the high bridge,” said Margaret Jenkins, of Anna Maria.

Hernando Carillo, an architect and urbanist from Bradenton Beach was opposed to the tall bridge.

“We don’t need that superstructure,” he said. “It would change the scale of Cortez.”

Island resident Barbara Hines said she prefers the no-build alternative.

“I don’t need the smoke and mirrors being used to sell us on the big bridge,” she said.

Bob Rosen, of Holmes Beach, drew chuckles when he said, “You can hold your applause, I’m for the tall bridge.”

Nobody applauded.

Ed Kolodzieski of Longboat Key said he might not be allowed to come home for his views.

“I don’t think the time saved with the tall bridge would be worth it,” he said. Cortez is a special place and so is Bradenton Beach. I don’t want to ruin their ambience with a tall bridge.”

Barbara Hug got a spirited round of applause when she said, “What we really need is another bridge from the mainland to Longboat Key.”

The public has until Sept. 12 to add their views by sending them to Marlon Bizerra, Project Manager, Florida Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow, FL 33831 or e-mail [email protected].

FDOT will announce their decision at a future meeting.