Manatee officials urge bridge engineers to avoid destroying Cortez fishing village

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 22, 2013 

MANATEE -- Manatee County representatives Monday urged state bridge engineers to avoid destroying the Cortez fishing village when planning the future of the Cortez Bridge.

Islands residents "truly want to protect the Cortez fishing village economy," said Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore.

She said she feared a new large, fixed-span bridge would "destroy" it.

The two-lane drawbridge built in 1956 is deteriorating, and Florida Department of Transportation engineers are evaluating what should be done to rehabilitate, repair or replace it.

Historic Cortez Village, hub of a busy commercial fishing industry, sits at the eastern end of the bridge, which connects Cortez on the mainland to Anna Maria Island.

The subject arose at the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting Monday after FDOT engineers unveiled resident surveys addressing the future of the bridge.

County Commissioner John Chappie said he would be "negligent" if he did not repeat his fellow commissioners' warnings about how important the fishing village is to Manatee County residents.

"I can't emphasize that enough," he told the board. "It's a way of life."

He said the state has done things over the years tohurt the village, which is why Manatee officials are so concerned about its welfare now.

Tony Sherrard, FDOT senior project manager, assured MPO boardmembers their comments will be taken seriously.

"I can't imagine we're going to have a huge bridge here, it would change everything about the village and the island," said Karen Bell, part-owner of A.P. Bell Fish Co., and owner of Star Fish Co., both in Cortez.

"It would be totally con-trary to what we have here to have a gigantic, big bridge."

Told of the Manatee commissioners' comments to the MPO, she added: "I think they're right, and I appreciate their defending us the way they are."

An FDOT Project Development and Environment Study began in January, and will take at least two years to determine project alternatives, Sherrard said.

He added firmly: "We will study only two-lane replacement alternatives."

State officials have no long-term plans to widen Cortez Road nor to build a new, third bridge linking the mainland to Longboat Key, he said.

FDOT will spend up to $4 million just to maintain the 57-year-old bridge until a replacement decision is made, officials have said.

Among the choices engineers are considering is a "no-build" option to simply maintain the bridge instead of new construction, Sherrard said.

Rehabilitation could lengthen the life of the old span perhaps 25 years, but it would not last as long as a bridge replacement, said FDOT consultant Doug Reed, senior project manager for Atkins, North America.

New bridges typically are designed to last 75 years, he said.

Reed also unveiled results from 168 surveys taken in February during the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, which showed 55 percent of respondents favor rehabilitation, and 36 percent favor bridge replacement.

An April public meeting for the project generated 848 surveys, with 51 percent favoring rehabilitation and 43 percent favoring replacement.

Replacement alternatives include a low-level draw-bridge, a mid-level draw-bridge and a high-level fixed bridge within the existingcorridor, officials have said.

For more information, go to the FDOT website at cortezbridge.com

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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