Paradise Bay mobile home park residents Tom Coulson, left, Jean Coulson, Bill Booher and Sheila Gilstrap preview the DOT’s options for the Cortez Bridge at an Aug. 26 meeting at Fishermen’s Hall, 4511 124th St. W., Cortez, called by Cortez opponents of a megabridge to discuss strategies for lobbying the DOT. Islander Photo: Terry O’Connor
With one last chance remaining to impress upon the Florida Department of Transportation their preference for retaining the low-rise Cortez Bridge, a two-hour strategy session Aug. 26 brought roughly 50 people together to discuss how best to get their message across.
If you go
Who: Anyone interested in the repair or replacement of the Cortez Bridge.
What: Florida Department of Transportation public hearing on Cortez Bridge.
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31.
Where: Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.
Why: Last hearing before the DOT chooses to repair or replace the bridge that opened in 1957.
The meeting was preparation for a DOT public hearing at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.
Detailed DOT bridge drawings were displayed on tables along with news coverage giving attendees background on the bridge issue.
Whether it will make a difference is debatable, according to some who braved a downpour to attend the gathering at Fishermen’s Hall in Cortez.
“I think it’s good people are getting together to talk about it,” said Sheila Gilstrap, who once served as a tender on the Cortez Bridge. “But I don’t think our input will matter. I think the decision has been made.”
Linda Molto, board member of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, urged those in attendance to keep fighting.
“We didn’t think we were going to win last time,” Molto said, referring to a successful effort to block a DOT megabridge proposal in 1993.
Strategies discussed Aug. 26 included working to block the DOT on permitting, safety and environmental fronts.
The DOT is leaning toward the largest of its three options for repairing or replacing the bridge, but spokesman Zachary Burch emphasized it has not yet decided to build a $72 million, 65-foot vertical-clearance fixed bridge.
A new bridge would have a service life of 75 years, the DOT projects. The engineering and design phase is budgeted at $7.2 million with $21.3 million to secure rights of way, Burch said.
Molto said many Cortez residents consider the current bridge an iconic representative of the “low-rise” fishing village it serves.
She strongly favors repair, she said, as do most Cortezians.
A DOT study indicated the bridge can be repaired for $4.5 million but it will need to be redone after 10 years and will be “substandard” throughout the rest of its life.
Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek said if DOT insists on building a new bridge, she would prefer a replica of the current span
“I cannot envision the DOT’s high bridge because of the approaches,” Soustek said.
The east approach for a 65-foot span would result in the ramp to the bridge towering over the village near the waterway, according to DOT projections.
The Thursday, Aug. 31, hearing will be the last before the DOT chooses to repair or replace the bridge that opened in 1957. The DOT has conducted more than a dozen public meetings on the bridge.
Public comment will be accepted at the hearing and online at cortezbridge.com through Sept. 12, according to Burch. The DOT will submit its final decision for federal government approval roughly one month later, Burch said.
Bridge inspections between 2008 and 2012 determined the two-lane Cortez Bridge is structurally obsolete although it remains functionally sound. The bridge is 11 years past its projected 50-year service life. It was built at the same time as the Gulf Drive-Longboat Pass and Manatee Avenue-Anna Maria Island bridges.
The DOT began planning the Cortez Bridge repair or replacement options in 2013.
Draft project reports are available at the Island Branch Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, and Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, or online at cortezbridge.com.
Cortez Bridge options at a glance
Repair 1957-built bridge, $4.5 million estimated cost, 10-year life span.
Advantages: Lowest initial cost. No harm to environment. No boat-height limitations. No rights-of-way or easement purchases. Preferred by community.
Disadvantages: Must be redone every 10 years. Bridge too narrow with no shoulders and substandard curbs, vulnerable to ship impact and storm surge. Bridge openings delay water and road traffic. Would close nine weeks during construction sending detours via Anna Maria Island or Ringling bridges.
Build 65-foot vertical-clearance fixed bridge, $72 million cost, 75-year lifespan.
Advantages: No operating costs or boat-height restrictions, no bridge-opening delays, stormwater runoff treated, wider sidewalk, increased resistance to storm surge and ship impact. Favored by the DOT.
Disadvantages: Greater toll on environment, least popular with Cortez residents and business owners who say its large footprint will make it harder to reach homes and businesses. Steeper grade. Construction will harm seagrass. Requires right-of-way and easement purchases.
Build 35-foot vertical-clearance drawbridge, $105 million, 75 years.
Advantages: No boat-height restrictions, reduced delays for openings, stormwater runoff treated, wider sidewalk, increased resistance to storm surge and ship impact.
Disadvantages: Most costly option, higher maintenance and bridge tender costs, openings delay water and road traffic. Steeper grade. Construction will harm seagrass. Requires right-of-way and easement purchases.
Eliminated options: A rehabilitation expected to last 25 years and a 21- and 45-foot vertical clearance drawbridge.