Linda Molto, left, and Jane von Hahmann review a poster board depicting amenities offered by the DOT with the 65-foot bridge option. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Mayor Bill Shearon, right, with service dog Reece and partner Tjet Martin, review posters depicting the Cortez Bridge options with Hernando Carrillo at the Aug. 31 DOT public hearing.
A matrix of the bridge alternatives offered Aug. 31 at the DOT public hearing for the Cortez Bridge at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, Bradenton. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Nancy Deal of Holmes Beach, front, standing, speaks on the record to moderator and Cortez Bridge project manager Marlon Bizerra before a full house, including Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson and wife Denise, foreground, at the Aug. 31 public hearing at Kirkwood Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. Islander Photos: Bonner Joy
To the Florida Department of Transportation, it’s financial project No. 430204-1-22-01.
No sentiment involved in deciding the future of Cortez Bridge. Just engineering another bridge.
“We’ve got it down to two final options,” remarked one DOT employee as he was setting up displays for the final public hearing Aug. 31 before the decision on the Cortez Bridge at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.
When reminded that many locals about to arrive for the hearing prefer the bridge be repaired, he remembered a third option.
“Oh, that,” he said. “We have to consider that. It’s required.”
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires the DOT to consider a makeover for the bridge. But those who live near the Cortez Bridge don’t see repair as an afterthought — as a standing-room-only crowd made clear to DOT project manager Marlon Bizerra.
“This just shouldn’t be happening,” said Barbara Hines, a Holmes Beach Planning Commission member and vice chair of the environmental group ManaSota-88. “They should repair the bridge.”
“A 65-foot bridge will change the character and scale of Cortez,” said Bradenton Beach resident and Miami architect Hernando Carillo in arguing against the DOT’s favored option.
He reprimanded the DOT for not considering the landscape — the community surroundings — in their design plan.
Bizerra said the public hearing process was demanding.
“It’s been intense,” Bizerra said after the nearly three-hour meeting concluded. “It will take weeks to make a decision after all this public input.”
Asked if the decision will be made this year, he said: “That would be an acceptable timeframe.”
The DOT billed the hearing as an opportunity to learn and provide comments concerning the location, design and social, economic and environmental effects of the repair or replacement of the Cortez Bridge on Cortez Road/State Road 684, which connects Bradenton Beach to the mainland at Cortez.
Replacement alternatives include a 35-foot vertical clearance drawbridge and a 65-foot-clearance fixed bridge — but Bizerra and the DOT video presentation and poster displays were clear on the preferred option, the 65-foot “megabridge,” as some locals call it.
None of the DOT displays ringing the room focused on repairing the 17.5-foot clearance Cortez Bridge. A couple displays mentioned repair as an option in comparison with the two new span plans.
“It seems as though DOT is stacking the deck,” said Nancy Deal of Holmes Beach.
But the DOT was upfront in its recommendation for the 65-foot-clearance bridge.
Bob and Joyce Flesch have lived 22 years in Cortez and will have a front-row view of whatever bridge results from the DOT decision. They said they were pleased it doesn’t appear the Cortez historic district will be touched.
“We’re trying to keep an open mind,” he said.
DOT spotlighted the outcome of an Aug. 9, 2016, public hearing when the 65-foot-high fixed bridge drew support from 44 percent of respondents as compared with 29 percent for repair and 19 percent opting for a 35-foot-high drawbridge.
Of the 20 Aug. 31 speakers, 16 favored repair, three backed the 35-foot option and just one supported the 65-footer.
Other comments were taken by scribes or on comment forms during the hearing.
The hearing began with an open house at 5 p.m. A team of 10 DOT representatives versed in questions on right-of-way acquisition, access management, noise abatement and bridge answered questions from a crowd estimated at nearly 200 people.
A video presentation at 6 p.m. was followed by public comment.
Bridge and road alignment options were spotlighted over about 1 mile of State Road 684 crossing the Intracoastal Waterway on the Cortez Bridge from State Road 789 to 123rd Street West.
DOT information on the bridge options is available for review at cortezbridge.com or at the Island Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach and Kirkwood Presbyterian Church.
What they said
“My proposal is do nothing except repair the bridge.” — Carol Kio-Green of Tallahassee and Cortez, who said her great-grandfather built the first home in Cortez 130 years ago.
“We don’t need another park.” — Jane von Hahmann, Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage vice president and former Manatee County commissioner. DOT displays and a video presentation highlighted a park-like setting “for festivals and fundraisers” under the bridge ramp on the waterfront in Cortez.
“You’ve designed this meeting so the snowbirds aren’t here. You already have your minds made up. So why are we here?” — Al Robinson, Holmes Beach resident and West Manatee Fire Rescue commissioner.
“There are not many places left like this. So, I think we need to protect Cortez.” — Ed Kolodzieski, Bradenton Beach resident.
“It seems as though FDOT is stacking the deck.” — Nancy Deal, Holmes Beach resident.
Statements made during the public comment portion of the Aug. 31 Florida Department of Transportation hearing on plans to repair or replace the Cortez Bridge.
How to comment
To register a preference for the repair or replacement of the Cortez Bridge.
Contact: Marlon Bizerra, DOT-Cortez Bridge project manager, email@example.com, 813-519-2250 or mail Bizerra at DOT District One, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow FL 33831.
DOT will take comments on the Cortez Bridge through Sept. 12.
Cortez Bridge options at a glance
Repair 1957-built 17.5-foot clearance bridge, $10.7 million estimated cost, 10-year life span.
Build 65-foot vertical-clearance fixed bridge, $72 million cost, 75-year life span.
Build 35-foot vertical-clearance drawbridge, $105 million, 75 years.
Eliminated options: A rehabilitation expected to last 25 years and a 21- or 45-foot vertical clearance drawbridges.