Cortez Bridge design moving forward

Cortez Bridge design moving forward
This FDOT illustration suggests the possibility of public events taking place in the public space created below the new Cortez Bridge. - Submitted | Florida Department of Transportation

CORTEZ – The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recently issued a written announcement regarding its ongoing plans to replace the Cortez Bridge drawbridge with a 65-foot, high-level fixed span bridge.

On Oct. 10, FDOT’s announcement stated that on Sept. 18, its Office of Environmental Management granted Location and Design Concept Acceptance for the bridge replacement project.

When contacted by The Sun last week, FDOT spokesman Rick Brian explained by email what “Location and Design Concept Acceptance” actually means.

“Location Design and Acceptance means the final environmental or PD&E (Project, Design and Environment Study) document has been signed and accepted by the FDOT Office of Environmental Management and that the PD&E phase has concluded. The project is eligible to move to the next phase of development, which is the design phase,” Brian responded.

Brian was asked if FDOT has any plans to revisit or reconsider the Cortez Bridge replacement decision originally announced in 2018.

“The 65-foot fixed bridge preferred alternative was accepted by the Florida Office of Environmental Management and is considered final,” Brian responded.

“Design is now underway and right of way is funded in Fiscal Years 2021, 2024 and 2025. Construction is not currently funded in FDOT’s five-year work program,” the recent FDOT announcement said.

As for the next step in the bridge design process, Brian said, “Survey for project has been completed. The design team has begun working on the preliminary design plans following the announcement of the PD&E completion in October.”

Brian said the bridge simulation video used by local news organizations and shared on social media in the wake of the recent announcement is the original simulation FDOT posted at its YouTube channel in September 2017. He said that is the most recent simulation and additional simulations may be created during the design phase.

Brian said FDOT has not issued formal responses to the letter of objection recently received from the Holmes Beach city commission or the city resolution recently received from the Bradenton Beach city commission stating its continued opposition to the 65-foot, fixed-span bridge.

Brian was asked if federal funds, in addition to state funds, could be used to build the new bridge.

“The signed PD&E study allows for federal funds to be used for any future phase of the project, as needed,” he responded.

“Currently, construction is not yet funded on this project,” Brian added.

When fully funded, the bridge replacement project will one day extend from 123rd Street West in Cortez to S.R. 789/Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach.

Brian was asked if the potential construction of a roundabout at the west end of Cortez Road would be included in the bridge design process.

“A roundabout at the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road is not included in the design plans for the Cortez Bridge project. Based on recent discussions with FDOT, the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and Bradenton Beach City Engineer Lynn Burnett, FDOT will look at including evaluation of a potential roundabout at that intersection in a future PD&E study that will also include other ‘complete streets’ improvements along S.R. 789,” Brian responded.

FDOT positions

The Oct. 10 announcement reiterates FDOT’s previously stated position that a 65-foot high-level fixed-bridge will improve traffic flow for vehicles and boats by eliminating congestion and delays caused by bridge openings.

It also notes the initial cost to construct a 65-foot, fixed-span bridge is approximately $23.8 million less than what it would cost to build a 35-foot mid-level drawbridge.

“The 65-foot high-level fixed-bridge will have improved operational reliability, especially in emergency situations and evacuation events, since there are no mechanical moving parts and electrical systems to malfunction, which could potentially close the bridge to traffic altogether. In addition, there is no chance of human error during the operation of a drawbridge,” the recent FDOT announcement states.

“The 65-foot high-level fixed-bridge alternative provides opportunities for greater community cohesion and walkability with a roadway, sidewalks, and public space under the new bridge at 127th Street West. The 65-foot fixed-bridge alternative is high enough to create an open space along the waterfront under the Cortez approach of the bridge. This could support a variety of public uses and amenities that can be implemented at the discretion of the local agencies,” the FDOT announcement states.

Critics of the 65-foot fixed-span bridge fear it will drastically alter the character of Cortez and Bradenton Beach. Concerns have also been expressed about the new bridge negatively impacting residential and commercial properties along that stretch of Cortez Road.

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