Cortezians wary of FDOT, weary of fight

Cortez Trailer Park
The Cortez Trailer Park lies at the south end of the Cortez Bridge and could be impacted by the new bridge. - Tom Vaught | Sun

CORTEZ – Now that the word is out, many people east of the Cortez Bridge feel hurt that the new 65-foot-tall span will be a “mega-bridge” and many are taking a wait-and-see attitude, saying they will likely not live to see it.

At a meeting of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (F.I.S.H.) on Monday, May 7, the president took that stand, saying, “I feel like batting my head against a wall, but then I think they might not build it in my lifetime.”

Replacing an “obsolete” drawbridge like the current bridge takes a lot of time.

Nothing at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) gets done without budget money and that takes time. There is money for the design phase, and more money in the 2020 and 2021 budgets for obtaining rights of way.

Karen Bell, who owns a fish house in Cortez, said she is tired of the fight saying, “We’ve been through this over and over.”

Artist Linda Molto, an ardent anti-tall-bridge activist, said the cards are stacked against them. She said she heard that the city of Bradenton Beach was against the tall bridge and they are on the other side of the bridge.

“We need to talk with Mayor (John) Chappie,” she said. “We could join forces.”

In Holmes Beach, Commissioner Judy Titsworth wants to send a letter from the city to the state to oppose the building of the large bridge. Commissioner Carol Soustek agreed saying that she attended the FDOT bridge meetings and didn’t hear many people who were in favor of the large bridge. She said most people were in favor of the 35-foot clearance drawbridge because it seemed to be the best compromise between residents, business owners and FDOT.

“No one endorsed the 65-foot bridge,” Soustek said. “The DOT did that on their own.”

Commissioners agreed unanimously to sign and send a letter.

In Cortez, Tide Tables restaurant is closest to the water on the south side of the bridge. Owner Bobby Woodson said he has mixed feelings.

Bobby Woodson

“It might make it easier to get in and out of our parking lot,” he said. “They are going to make a roadway that goes north and south under the bridge, so people won’t have to fight the traffic to get here or leave.”

But, he said he’s disappointed because the new bridge will be out of proportion for the historic fishing village.

He said he feels the high bridge is not the solution to gridlock.

“We need another bridge from Longboat Key to the mainland to keep those people off Anna Maria Island when they go to the mainland,” he said.

East of Tide Tables, the Cortez Trailer Park would be affected by the new bridge because they have two entrances that might have to be connected to a side road that would connect with Cortez Road because the road would be elevated from descending the tall bridge.

Bruce Shearer, owner of Annie’s Bait and Tackle said he might not be alive to see the new bridge. He said the new bridge might make it easier to get into or out of Annie’s, but the tall structure would not fit in with Cortez.

Bruce Shearer

“I went to hearings 30 years ago and we told them we didn’t want the tall bridge, but the Manatee Avenue Bridge would be better because it’s longer and there aren’t any buildings nearby,” he said. “They agreed to build the Manatee Avenue Bridge high and that’s what’s happening, but now they’re back and will do the same with this bridge.”

He said the tall bridge isn’t the solution.

“They can build it as high as they want, but there will still be cars backed up to the fire station every day,” he said. “They need to build a bridge from Longboat Key to the mainland where all that new development will be.”