Mannix About Manatee: Would high level fixed span help or hurt?

May 5, 2013 

It's not often I get to do it, but I enjoy driving across high-level fixed bridges in Florida.

Admiring the sweeping elegance of Sarasota's Ringling Causeway on a lazy Sunday cruise.

Being mesmerized by the vast Gulf of Mexico from the crest of the Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge on the way to visit longtime friends.

Taking in panoramic views from Florida's East Coast majestic fixed bridges spanning the Intracoastal.

I'd like to imagine receiving the same aesthetic pleasure from such a lofty span replacing the old Cortez Bridge.

I just don't know if it would work there.

What brings up that perennially nettlesome point are the Florida Department of Transportation's unfolding plans for the aged 2,617-foot bridge that's in dire need of repair or replacement.

Last Tuesday the FDOT held a meeting to canvas public opinion, something they'll get plenty of, heated and otherwise, as project preparations go forward.

About 25 years ago, the state agency wanted to replace the bridge with a high-level fixed span, but backed down to public opposition and renovated it instead.

So here we go again.

If the decision is to replace it, there are three options:

• A low-level drawbridge.

• A mid-level drawbridge.

• A big ol' fixed bridge.

Given the urgent need for a dependable evacuation route from Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in the event of an approaching hurricane, a fixed span serves that purpose best.

Ditto for an ambulance crew rushing someone to the hospital.

Or just improving traffic flow to and from the island.

But at what cost -- and I don't mean the bridge project price tag, either.

The funky old Florida charm of Cortez would be compromised by a soaring concrete bridge whose westbound ramp might begin several blocks back in the historic fishing village.

It might be a tight fit on the Bradenton Beach end of a fixed span, too, what with boatyards and police headquarters on one side and condos on the other.

Can you say eminent domain?

Regardless, the FDOT will have to do something with the old Cortez Bridge.

Or else.

It was built in 1956!

Know how long ago that is?

• Ike was president.

• Elvis Presley made the U.S. music charts for the first time with "Heartbreak Hotel."

• Floyd Patterson was world heavyweight boxing champion.

• Bob Barker debuted as host for "Truth or Consequences."

• Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" starring Charlton Heston hit the big screen.

The Cortez Bridge is older than Moses?

Almost.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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