Déjà vu: Cortez Bridge's future back in spotlight

April 25, 2013 

The Florida Department of Transportation must follow state-mandated procedures even though next week's public meeting to discuss the future of the Cortez Bridge brings a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

Two years ago, the agency announced a $1.5 million study on the long-term future of the 57-year-old drawbridge -- to the chagrin of island residents who stated the issue had already been studied and shouldn't be raised again.

But on Tuesday, FDOT will host an open house to begin discussions of the Project Development and Environment Study. We expect fireworks yet again.

In the late 1980s, the agency proposed replacing the drawbridge with a 65-foot-high, fixed span, but relented to intense pressure and rehabilitated the bridge instead.

Two decades later, rusting nuts and bolts, cracked concrete posts an corroded piers, cross beams and other shortcomings prompted fresh concerns. A 2009 FDOT study recommended replacing the drawbridge with a tall fixed span, but once again bowed to public demands for repairs.

Here we are today facing similar options: rehabilitation or replacement. A low-level drawbridge, a mid-level drawbridge and a high-level fixed span are the options.

The Cortez Bridge battle mirrors the one fought over the Anna Maria Island Bridge to the north, which handles Manatee Avenue traffic.

But the situation is vastly different. A high-level fixed bridge makes greater sense there with the wider channel crossing and more land for bridge approaches.

In an FDOT public opinion poll four years ago, 73 percent of residents supported a high bridge there. Even the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, composed of elected officials from the two counties, backed a fixed span there back in the 1990s.

As we opined two years ago, we support a high bridge from Perico Island to Holmes Beach -- as long as the state comes up with an aesthetically pleasing design, also the Manatee County Commission's position then.

That debate will resume sometime in the future. After a lengthy $11.5 million rehabilitation project ended in 2009, the Anna Maria Island Bridge enjoys new life.

While some island residents urge a bridge be built at a new site -- extending 53rd Avenue West across Sarasota Bay to the southern edge of Anna Maria Island, a study concluded that was not environmentally feasible.

The character along the Cortez Bridge remains unique. The span between the historic fishing village of Cortez and quaint Anna Maria Island still holds great appeal. The three complement one another -- a reverential reminder of Old Florida.

A high bridge would destroy all that. Even a mid-level drawbridge would be unpleasant.

But another drawbridge of the same design, same height and same location, as suggested by island resident and county Commissioner Carol Whitmore two years ago, sounds ideal.

That's our recommendation to FDOT.

If you go

The agency's open house will be 4-7 p.m. April 30 at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, 6101 Cortez Road, Bradenton. Information about FDOT's study can be found at www.cortezbridge.com.

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