CORTEZ -- Roughly 170 people appeared Tuesday to view displays and express opinions on the future of the Cortez Bridge.
They suggested everything from no bridge at all to a giant fixed span, according to Tony Sherrard, senior project manager for the Florida Department of Transportation, which organized the public meeting at the Kirkwood Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall.
State transportation officials wanted to know what residents want done about repairing, rehabilitating or replacing the two-lane bridge.
The 2,617-foot bridge links Cortez Road, or State Road 684, to island communities along the western edge of the county. Built in 1956, it has outlived its 50-year design lifespan, said FDOT engineer Jim Jacobsen.
"The bridge is structurally deficient, which means we must repair or replace it," said Jacobsen, who will oversee a $3 million to $4 million maintenance project next year just to keep the old bridge sound until a replacement decision is made.
Ryan Davis, 34, owner of YOLO Adventures at 4334 127th St. W near the eastern end of the bridge, preferred something smaller than the current two-lane, bascule-style drawbridge with two spans. He was concerned a big, fixed bridge might affect the visibility and accessibility of his business, which offers parasailing, sightseeing
and jet ski tours.
"My property might be gone or the visibility might be gone," he said, checking out maps showing the vicinity around the bridge.
Roy Lee Ezell, 68, a retiree who grew up in Cortez, took the opposite view: "I would like to see a four-lane bridge, a high bridge, because it would help with traffic," he said.
Ezell said when the current bridge was built, the whole county claimed only 60,000 residents, while today its population exceeds 300,000.
He even remembered the wooden bridge that preceded the current one, recalling lazy days of swimming in its shadow along the Intracoastal Waterway.
The two-year FDOT Project Development and Environment Study, which began in January, will address project alternatives.
The study limits range from the bridge and roadway approaches from Gulf Drive, or SR 789, to 123rd Street West, a distance of about 0.9 mile, officials said.
Replacement alternatives include a low-level drawbridge, a mid-level drawbridge and a high-level fixed bridge within the existing corridor, they said.
FDOT has already compiled results of two surveys done locally, according to a chart on display.
In February, 168 respondents at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival favored rehabilitation rather than replacement by a margin of 55 percent to 36 percent.
A second set of results from 355 respondents found 49 percent favored replacement and 48 percent favored rehabilitation.
Through May 10, FDOT is soliciting comments via U.S. mail, telephone and Internet. Its survey sheet is posted at cortezbridge.com. E-mail email@example.com.; telephone comments to 863-519-2304, or address letters to Tony Sherrard, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow, FL 33831.
No cost has yet been determined for the bridge project, since a choice must be made first on what alternative is chosen, Sherrard said.
The FDOT study is slated for completion next winter, officials said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.