DOT chief: Cortez Bridge megaspan ‘will not be revisited’

Speculation that the decided height of the Cortez Bridge could be revisited over concerns that a high fixed-span bridge would have adverse impacts to Cortez village will not happen, according to the top area transportation official.

L.K. Nandem, Florida Department of Transportation District 1 Secretary, told an audience gathered Oct. 22: “There are no plans to revisit plans to change our current design.”

Nandem was the featured speaker at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce Headliner Luncheon at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Bradenton.

The bridge study, which began in 2013, determined social, economic, natural and physical environmental impacts associated with a proposed transportation improvement project, which enables the DOT to choose the best alternative.

The project development and environment study suggests the best option to replace the 61-year-old bridge would be to build a 65-foot-clearance bridge much like the Ringling Bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway in Sarasota, which was strongly opposed, but is now a centerpiece for downtown Sarasota. In addition to vehicle traffic, hundreds of pedestrians walk and ride their bikes over the bridge daily.

Cortez residents have mostly opposed the bridge replacement options presented by the DOT.

Cortez artist and activist Susan Curry recently rekindled the conversation on Facebook when she posted her concerns about the DOT’s plan to replace the bridge on Facebook.

Bradenton Beach officials and a contingent of residents there also oppose the replacement of the low, bascule bridge with a megabridge — the DOT’s preferred 65-foot-clearance fixed-span bridge.

But the DOT study determined the preferred alternative is the 65-foot-clearance bridge. The PD&E study found that a fixed-span bridge has more economic, safety and convenience benefits over the existing drawbridge or a replacement drawbridge. It would be constructed to last beyond the 75-year design-life requirement for new DOT bridges.

According to Zachary Burch, a spokesman for DOT District 1, the PD&E study indicates a fixed bridge is resoundingly the best financial investment for taxpayers. The initial construction cost, including design and construction, saves about $23.9 million compared to a new midlevel bascule bridge.

Over the 75-year life of the bridge, the fixed-span also would save about $11.2 million in operating and maintenance costs compared to a drawbridge. The DOT says the $35.1 million in savings could be used for additional improvements and aesthetics.

“Vehicles and boats will have improved traffic flow with a fixed bridge, which would eliminate congestion and delays exasperated by the bridge openings,” Burch said.

He also added the new bridge would be designed and constructed to modern standards that will improve the safety of the bridge and will include enhanced pedestrian and bicycle features, including two 10-foot sidewalks separated by a traffic barrier, which would enhance safety and recreational opportunities. It would include a frontage lane that connects the north and south sides of Cortez and would allow for open space for amenities like kayak rentals, a dog park, play area, landscaping or other amenities and business opportunities.

Some Cortez residents are fearful a new bridge would block access to their village and negatively impact businesses, but DOT officials say those concerns will be met and discussed before construction.

The bridge design was funded this year and should be completed by spring 2019. Actual bridge plans are scheduled for completion in 2023.

“We are not planning to purchase any new right of way on this project,” Rick Brian, a District 1 spokesman told The Islander.

“All the work will be performed within the department’s existing ROW.”

“There will be ample opportunities for the public to weigh-in on aesthetics, landscaping and the use of the space beneath the new structure once it’s completed,” Brian said.

The DOT has not determined funding to build the bridge, but has until 2025 to find the source.