SARASOTA -- The venerable two-lane Cortez Bridge, which spans Anna Maria Sound and Sarasota Bay and is one of only two connections between Anna Maria and mainland Manatee County, is steadily deteriorating after setting 56 years in saltwater.
The issue at a ManaSota-88 meeting Wednesday was whether the bridge, which was built to last 50 years, should be rehabilitated or replaced by either another low-level drawbridge, or a mid-level drawbridge like the one over Treasure Island or a high-level fixed bridge like Ringling Bridge in Sarasota.
Three Florida Department of Transportation officials told 10 concerned citizens in attendance the Cortez Bridge should be safe for another 10 years but a decision must be been made its future.
FDOT is about to begin a study to determine the level of corrosion and condition of the concrete, steel and bridge components, including deck, piles, railings, piers and mechanical elements. The study will also indicate how residents, animals and plants would be affected by construction of a new bridge.
The field data collection should be completed by February, Cortez Bridge project manager Douglas Reed of Atkins North America Inc. told the audience at the Sarasota Federal Building. 111 S. Orange Ave.
Reed also shared results of public surveys on the Cortez Bridge taken at two venues. A total of 168 bridge surveys were returned from the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival Feb. 16-17 with 55 percent voting for rehabilitation over replacement, Reed said. Another 36 percent voted for
replacement over rehabilitation and, of those, 34 percent voted for a high-level fixed bridge, 33 percent voted for a low-level drawbridge and 24 percent voted for a mid-level drawbridge.
At a public kickoff meeting April 30, 848 surveys were returned and rehabilitation was preferred again, 51 percent to 43 percent, Reed said.
Of those favoring replacement, 38 preferred the Ringling-type bridge.
Two residents attending Wednesday's meeting, Terri Wonder and Barbara Hines, told the officials a high-level fixed bridge would be a disaster for the fishing village of Cortez. "That kind of bridge might cut right through the heart of Cortez and kill it," Wonder said.
Glenn Compton of ManaSota-88 said he wondered if the light from a newer bridge would affect turtles. He also asked for future public forums to go over all the environmental concerns.
"We want to make sure we get the chance to go over those environmental reports before a decision is made," Compton told the officials.
Right-of-way land purchases for a new bridge and constsruction costs are not yet funded, but design is, Reed said.
A new bridge would be designed to last up to 75 years and meet modern hurricane code requirements. It would also correct structural problems and design deficiences of Cortez Bridge, including lack of shoulders, narrow concrete curbs separating travel lanes from the sidewalk and old-style bridge railings, Reed said. Any new two-lane bridge would have 10-foot shoulders to allow for four lanes in an emergency such as a hurricane evacuation, said Christoper Piazza, design engineer.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.