One important date emerged from the Florida Department of Transportation’s public comment meeting on the future of the Cortez Bridge.
By 2050, the bridge must be replaced with a new structure, regardless of how much rehabilitation and repair is done by the DOT in the next 35 years.
The meeting, held Aug. 28 in the fellowship hall of the St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, invited the public to comment on DOT options for the bridge as part of the project development and environment study on the future of Cortez Bridge.
The options presented by the DOT included “no-build” — just repair the bridge as much as possible. The DOT said this would keep the bridge operational until 2035, but after that a new bridge would be needed. This option would cost the least in the short-term, DOT officials said, but no estimate was offered.
The DOT said the replacement options presented at the meeting are for two lanes of traffic with safety lanes. The no-build option would not provide emergency lanes on the bridge.
No cost estimate was provided for no-build option.
Attendees also were invited to comment on the rehabilitation alternative. DOT officials said this would cost more than the no-build option. “This would be a major repair project,” said DOT consulting engineer Chris Piazza.
If the rehabilitation option is adopted, it would extend the life of the bridge 25-35 years. After 2050 at the latest, the bridge must be replaced.
The long-term solution is to replace the Cortez Bridge, the DOT said.
A replacement bridge would last 75 years and have two 12-foot-wide lanes for traffic. Additionally, two 10-foot-wide shoulders for pedestrians and emergencies would be constructed.
Under the replacement option, the public was invited to comment on alternative alignments for a new bridge, either 9 feet north of the present structure or 15 feet south. Maintaining the present center-line on the existing bridge for a new bridge is not an option because a temporary bridge would be needed for traffic, the DOT said.
In both the north and south alignments, traffic on the existing bridge would continue while construction of a new bridge was ongoing, DOT officials said.
The options for a replacement bridge included a 21-foot-high clearance drawbridge, a 45-foot-high bridge with no draw and a 65-foot-high bridge with no draw.
The 45-foot-high bridge could accommodate 80 percent of the boats that now pass through the draw, while 98 percent of boats would clear a 65-foot-high bridge, the DOT said.
If the replacement option is adopted, the old bridge would be torn down after the new Cortez Bridge opened. There are no plans by the DOT to put the old structure to use for recreation, such as fishing, biking and fitness.
Attendees at the meeting appeared to favor the rehabilitation option.
Josh Lutzberger of Tidy Island said he wanted the bridge repaired, as did Mitzi Summerland of Holmes Beach. Retired Minnesota Department of Transportation official Bob Jaworski, however, said replacement is the best option.
After receiving and reviewing public comments, the DOT is expected make its formal recommendation in the spring.
A replacement bridge request would have to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration, project manager Tony Sherrard said.
The DOT will continue to take public comment until Sept. 8.
Mail comments to Tony Sherrard, Florida Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow FL 35831, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.