BRADENTON BEACH – Some of the Island’s elected officials are not letting FDOT replace the aging Cortez Bridge with a 65-foot fixed-span bridge without a fight.
Manatee County Commissioner and long-time Anna Maria Island resident Carol Whitmore appeared before members of the Island Transportation Planning Organization at a Sept. 16 meeting to ask for support in taking a stand against the 65-foot bridge. Though Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy was absent from the meeting, Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth pledged their support in the fight against the fixed-span bridge on behalf of the ITPO. They also agreed to take the topic back to their respective city commissioners to discuss possible city support of the effort.
“I know it can be changed,” Whitmore said of the Florida Department of Transportation decision to replace the aging drawbridge with a 65-foot fixed-span alternative. She added that if the high bridge is built, she feels that it will decimate the character of the historic village of Cortez as well as that of Anna Maria Island.
Whitmore said that she supports the mid-level alternative offered by FDOT in previous presentations to the public – a 45-foot drawbridge that she said would be higher than the current bridge and allow more boat traffic to pass under it without raising the drawbridge as frequently and stopping the flow of vehicular traffic. She also said that because the bridge isn’t as high as the 65-foot alternative, she doesn’t feel that it would damage Cortez and Bradenton Beach like the large bridge would.
“It really isn’t out of our hands,” she said of the design alternatives for the bridge, adding that “no one objects that it needs to be replaced.”
The Cortez Bridge has undergone several repairs over the past few years to help keep it functional, despite the fact that the bridge has outlived its 50-year lifespan. FDOT has secured funding for a design phase, which hasn’t yet begun, and representatives have publicly stated that the fixed-span bridge is the preferred alternative of the three designs presented to the public. No funds have been secured to construct a replacement bridge or to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue which is also planned to be replaced with a 65-foot fixed-span bridge.
Whitmore said that when FDOT leaders decided to replace the bridge on Manatee Avenue with a high-span bridge it was agreed that there would not be a high-span bridge linking Cortez and Bradenton Beach. Now she said she expects FDOT leadership to honor that agreement. Chappie said that he too remembers that agreement and supports Whitmore’s efforts to fight for the mid-level drawbridge replacement option.
“The high bridge is going to destroy the ambiance of our two communities,” he said.
The Cortez Village Historical Society has long expressed opposition to the high-span bridge, concerned about historical buildings on both sides of Cortez Road being affected by the access roads of the proposed bridge.
“I know in my heart this will be good for the whole area,” Whitmore said of the mid-level bridge.
Whitmore asked for a letter of support from the ITPO as well as for each mayor to speak with their city’s lobbyist about pushing the issue at the state legislative level.
Despite Murphy’s absence, Chappie and Titsworth agreed to move forward with supporting her efforts and speaking with their city commissioners and lobbyists about supporting the mid-level bridge replacement option.
“You either stand for something or you stand for nothing,” Chappie said. “We need to stand in support of this.”