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Cortez Bridge replacement- rehab talks on DOT horizon

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

The DOT has asked Cortez residents to prepare for public meetings on replacing or rehabilitating the 55-year-old Cortez Bridge. Islander Photo: Mark Young

Several Cortez residents reported receiving phone calls from excited developers and contractors wanting to be a part of community discussions regarding the possibility of replacing the Cortez Bridge.

Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board member Linda Molto said Sept. 10 at the nonprofit’s monthly meeting, that she received a letter from the Florida Department of Transportation asking for the community to consider holding a public meeting.

DOT said in the letter that a meeting of residents, engineers and environmentalists would be prudent in discussing the possible rehabilitation and replacement of the bridge.

The DOT letter states a project consultant is being selected to determine the best options, according to Molto.

“We’ve had this happen a couple of times before,” said Molto. “If we allow them to put in a larger bridge, depending on the height, they will have to start the entrance to the bridge as far back as 123rd Street, so it would dead-end every street in between.”

Molto said she didn’t know if that was still an option, but Cortez residents know their rights as a registered historic village.

“A federal project cannot impact another federal project and we are a national registered historic district, and that’s how it stopped the last time,” she said. “We need to have everybody give us input on how they feel before we set up a meeting.”

FISH treasurer Jane von Hahmann suggested contacting DOT to first determine its timeline, and that no one should think construction would begin any time soon.

“They will be doing a project development and environmental study first and those studies take a long time, so I don’t think anything is going to happen anytime soon,” said von Hahmann. “We have time to get a little more information before we set that meeting, but we should probably think about doing it before November.”

A PD&E study was reported to be ongoing earlier this year, according to the Sarasota /Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. MPO reported in January that the study would focus on rehabilitating the 55-year-old bridge to give it another 10 years of life, if possible.

A second $1.65 million study planned for the 2012-13 fiscal year will consider the overall replacement of the bridge.

A study completed in the early1990s called for a larger, higher fixed-span bridge, but public outcry, as well as the impact it would have on the historic village of Cortez, brought that proposal to a stop.

DOT announced a new study in February and garnered immediate feedback from Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore and John Chappie, who opposed a resurfacing of the 1990s proposal.

Chappie said such a project would destroy two communities, referring to Cortez and Bradenton Beach, whose residents also have expressed opposition to a larger bridge at previous public meetings.

No date has been set for public meetings.

Molto said DOT only expressed interest in having the meetings begin in the near future.

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