DOT rejects legal challenge to Cortez megabridge

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The Cortez Bridge opens in September for boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway with the Seafood Shack restaurant and marina in the distance. Islander Photo: Arthur Brice

Round one goes to the Florida Department of Transportation.

The DOT has dismissed a legal challenge to the agency’s plan to replace the Cortez Bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed span.

“It was expected,” said former County Commissioner Joe McClash, who filed the challenge.

McClash’s request in October for a formal administrative hearing contained 25 instances in which he says the DOT acted wrongly.

In an “order of dismissal without prejudice” issued Nov. 13, the DOT said the matter is under federal jurisdiction, not state.

McClash said Nov. 22 that he had filed an amended petition in which he argues that the state also has jurisdiction.

The DOT announced Oct. 10 it had approved a yearslong project development and environment study and was going ahead with design work for the 65-foot-clearance fixed bridge.

The transportation agency made a brief statement when McClash filed his legal petition last month.

“The department is highly confident that we followed all applicable state and federal guidelines related to this PD&E study; however, since this is now a legal matter, we cannot provide comment,” DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick wrote in an Oct. 24 email to The Islander.

The DOT appears to be trying to shore up support in Cortez for the megabridge, which some residents strongly oppose.

District 1 Secretary LK Nandam, based in Bartow, held a private meeting with Cortez businessman John Banyas at his Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar Nov. 15. An Islander reporter was told he could not attend.

Nandam declined to comment on the meeting when asked in person Nov. 18, but Banyas said in a Nov. 20 telephone interview the bridge was discussed.

“I could go either way, but I think the taller bridge makes sense,” he said.

Cortez businesswoman Karen Bell, a leader in the local seafood industry, has publicly expressed her support for a high bridge.

McClash, who served on the county commission from 1990 to 2012, is joined in his quest for the administrative hearing by three organizations and three Cortez residents, including another former county commissioner.

“This is a signal to the DOT to do the right thing,” McClash said last month. “It is intended to give them a taste of what’s coming.”

In addition to the megabridge, the DOT also considered in the study making repairs to the 62-year-old drawbridge or replacing it with a 35-foot-clearance drawbridge.

The current drawbridge, with a clearance height of about 17 feet, had major repairs done in 1996, 2010 and 2015 and the DOT says it has outlived its lifespan.

Opponents of the high bridge say it would change the character of the fishing village of Cortez, designated a historic district in 1995. Many residents have been fighting the megabridge since the DOT revealed a plan for it in 1989.

“The DOT had a number of bridges they were trying to drop down everyone’s throats in the 1980s and ’90s,” McClash said last month.

McClash and many others don’t oppose replacing the bridge, they just don’t want a megabridge.

“It will have a major impact to the village of Cortez,” McClash told The Islander Oct. 25. “It will not be able to survive placing this megastructure within the village.”

Joe Kane, one of the petitioners in the legal challenge, has lived in Cortez for more than two decades.

“The more I researched the proposal, the more monstrous it became,” Kane told The Islander Oct. 25. “It’s a death sentence for Cortez, as well as Bradenton Beach.”

The bridge, located on Cortez Road, crosses the Intracoastal Waterway from Cortez and the mainland to Anna Maria Island, where it empties onto Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach.

Linda Molto, another petitioner, has lived in Cortez 34 years.

“It’s the wrong bridge for the wrong place,” she said in an Oct. 24 interview with The Islander.

The Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue, a second drawbridge connecting the island to the mainland built the same year, also is slated to be replaced by a 65-foot-clearance fixed span. Its design schedule is further along than the Cortez Bridge because the DOT approved it first.

Jane von Hahmann, a 43-year Cortez resident who served on the county commission 2001-08, also is a petitioner in McClash’s legal challenge.

Others are the environmental group ManaSota-88 and two other nonprofits, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and Cortez Village Historical Society.

The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization is not part of the challenge, which executive director David Hutchinson called “a procedural matter.”

“The MPO has no support for any particular design, but we’ve consistently supported expeditious replacement of the bridge,” Hutchinson said Oct. 25.

Editor’s note: This report was updated Nov. 22.

10 thoughts on “DOT rejects legal challenge to Cortez megabridge

  1. Paul Reed steberger

    Replace or repair no mega bridge. We hv been on the island for 28 years. One more change like this and we may as well live in ft Lauderdale or Miami

  2. Mike Schenk

    Have lived on the island for 35 years and this mega bridge design has been tried before. Simple question Why? Traffic will come to a stop at Gulf Drive. Makes no sense at all

  3. Ronald W. Martin, Jr.

    My wife and I visit Anna Maria every year. I am not in favor of the taller bridge. This so called mega bridge will take away from what makes the Cortez and Bradenton each area so unique. Hoping the DOT and the residents can can a solution. FDOT please don’t screw up this area!!

  4. Robert Rogers

    So the megabridge will “empty onto Gulf Drive”? Well, it can’t empty if there’s noplace for the cars to go. During peak times that intersection is gridlocked, and except for some space at Coquina Beach, there are few places to park. The DOT is just not looking at the big picture.

  5. Carol Wallace

    Dot should not be able to dictate to the residents of Cortez and Bradenton Beach on the type of Bridge that should be built to replace the current
    Causeway bridge…
    How can a “committee” of Engineers/folks who are up in Tallahassee and D.C. even begin to know the complications that will arise.
    I see it as a high speed Bridge to nowhere…
    Traffic will still back up when it arrives at our little two lane Gulf Drive …honestly, think about it…

    1. J.H.

      Totally agree, as i wrote before they can build a twenty lane bridge both ways and its not gonna help island traffic, the size of the island doesn’t grow with the number of cars coming over the bridge… why is it that the officials making these idiotic plans cannot see or understand this. Island=limited area of available space….cannot put 10 lbs in a 5 lb bag…. a duh

    1. Barbara Tibbs

      65ft Span…will take away the character of the area., not to mention the impact to the Village. The traffic is all going to end up in the same place, at Gulf drive and hopefully there will be no roundabout either.I think there is a smoother traffic control with the light vs a roundabout.

  6. Bernie Czarniecki

    Time to sue FDOT for bullying and railroading THEIR misguided plans into our community and ignoring the huge concerns and will of this area. They think they are some sort of God – owning all aspects of the decision-making process. They are supposed to exercise the will of the people – not spit on them while acting like a dictatorship instead of a democracy.

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