Cortez Bridge is “structurally deficient,” DOT says

A Florida Department of Transportation engineer’s report on the Cortez Bridge on State Road 684 sounds bleak.

The DOT report by Jim Jacobsen presented to Manatee County Commissioners last year says the bridge is “structurally deficient,” with a sufficiency rating of 21.7.

But the bridge rating would have to fall to four or below to be “structurally unsafe” and closed to vehicular traffic, according to a DOT spokesperson.

The DOT is looking now to the future of the Cortez Bridge, while it is still serviceable.

The DOT has budgeted a $1.5 million planning, development and environmental study of the Cortez Bridge beginning December 2012 to determine the extent of any deterioration, the cost of repairs and long-term solutions, DOT District 1 spokesperson Lauren Hatchell of the Bartow office said.

Jacobsen’s report found extensive corrosion of some concrete beams, sub-pilings, the drawspan (bascule) steel, along with cracked concrete and cuts, a corroding seawall, corrosion of the expansion joints and a deteriorating bridgetender shack, among other needed repairs.

While the PD&E report is expected to take 24-36 months, Jacobsen said the DOT has budgeted a $4.4 million repair project in 2013-14 as a “stop-gap” measure to keep the bridge operational until the PD&E study is released and the public votes on its favored solution.

Hatchell said the DOT would hold several public work sessions on Anna Maria Island for input on the $4.4 million rehab project before any work begins.

The PD&E study will be presented at a public hearing when finished.

At that public meeting, all options for the future of the bridge will be discussed.

Hatchell said it’s possible the repair project won’t begin until the PD&E study has been presented.

Repair or replacement of the bridge has a high priority as it falls within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard and spans the Intracoastal Waterway.

The present Cortez Bridge was built in 1956 and a Federal Highway System 1989 report recommended a four-lane, fixed span, high-rise bridge be built as a replacement.

Jacobsen said that suggestion is no longer considered feasible for a number of reasons, including the cost of property acquisition.

County Commissioner John Chappie, whose district includes Anna Maria Island and Cortez, said he’s aware of the need for the PD&E study and is tracking it through the DOT scheduling process. The DOT has said the study has a “high priority” because of the deficiencies noted by Jacobsen and the U.S. Coast Guard demands that all bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway meet its safety standards.

In 1998, the DOT undertook a rehabilitation project on the Cortez Bridge that resulted in lengthy periods of lane closures and an eventual closure to all vehicular traffic for more than a month.

Hatchell said it’s too early to discuss such measures for the Cortez Bridge until the PD&E report is completed, presented to the public and a long-range plan approved.

The DOT inspects all bridges in Florida and assigns a safety rating to the bridge. None of the three bridges leading to the Island have a rating anywhere near five, Hatchell said.

The Anna Maria Island Bridge/State Road 64 was renovated by the DOT in 2008 for about $12 million, and caused the bridge to be closed for 30 days. The resulting loss of business prompted some small businesses, including the 150-plus seat Shells Restaurant, where Walgreens is now located, to close.

Islanders eventually agreed with the DOT that a new, two-lane bridge and bascule with emergency lanes and lights could be built alongside the current AMI bridge. Traffic would not be interrupted in this solution.

That project is in the long-range transportation plans for the DOT and the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, but no budget year has yet been established for when it would be funded.

The DOT estimated in 2009 that such a bridge would cost about $132 million.

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