CORTEZ -- The Cortez Bridge is at the center of a multimillion-dollar repair project set to begin April 28 and expected to be completed by early 2015.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the Cortez Bridge, built in 1956, sits in a naturally corrosive saltwater environment, prompting the need for routine maintenance and minor repairs.
"Fortunately, we are doing the work in the evening, so hopefully that should lessen a lot of the traditional traffic," said Brian Bollas, a public information officer for the repair project.
Lane closures on the two-lane bridge during the repair project will take place between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The closures would only take place during construction -- such as paving -- that requires the traffic lane, Bollas said. Construction on the bridge's underside would take place during the day, he said.
The repairs, which are expected to extend the life of the bridge for another 10 years, will focus on a laundry list of areas: repairing concrete beams, the sea wall, and the steel on the movable span portion of the bridge. Bollas said there are plans to also upgrade the bridge's electric system, which includes lighting and the power for the bridge tender house.
FDOT will hold a public information meeting about the project on Tuesday at the Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. Bobby Woodson, co-owner of Tide Tables, will be there. The restaurant, which he co-owns with his wife Gwen Woodson and business partner Karen Bell, is adjacent to the Cortez Bridge. From inside his recently opened restaurant and marina by the Intracoastal Waterway, guests can see the bridge. Woodson said he was happy the bridge is being refurbished rather than replaced.
"It keeps the old feel of Cortez and the way Florida used to be. It keeps it instead of having some gigantic monster bridge going up," he said, adding that the local feel is what people come to Cortez for. The restaurant owner wasn't born in Cortez but has spent most of his life in the historic fishing village.
"If you go down to Fort Myers, where they built that huge, tall bridge, it just bypasses the whole community," he said.
Bridge to stay open
"Even when I spoke to some of the waitresses, store clerks and managers about (the repair project), they were happy it wouldn't affect their commute, and they're also glad the bridge is not closing," said Bollas, who has been hitting the streets of Cortez in recent months to spread the word about the repairs.
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam J. Speciale is confident that the repairs won't affect his department's ability to work effectively.
"If they can do everything at night, obviously that's not peak traffic time for us, so that would work out great," he said, adding that his big concern for public safety is getting EMS and fire departments into Bradenton Beach.
"We're more than willing to do what we have to do," Speciale said. "Once this is done, it will be a good thing because the bridge will be more dependable, and I don't think we will have as many breakdowns."
On Thursday afternoon, Ed Nassar tended to customers inside Cortez Market, 12202 Cortez Road W. The 57-year-old owner of the decades-old business said he is neutral about the repair project, but he would like to see a new bridge built someday.
"I'd like to, but the problem is that Gulf Drive is not big enough to hold that much traffic," said Nassar, adding that traffic is good for business. Nassar said he knows many Cortez residents wants to keep the town as a historical area.
A Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study is being conducted about the future of Cortez Bridge. Backed by the FDOT District One, the study is examining the future of the aging bridge. Calls and an email to project manager Tony Sherrard were not returned as of press time.
Further away from the bridge on Cortez Road, Mark Messina bent his head over a coin shuttle inside Cortez Daily Laundry. The 49-year-old Cortez native said as long as the repair work is done over the summer, he doesn't think it will affect the village much.
A high span bridge "wouldn't be good for Cortez," he said. "And if they wanted to do that, they'd have 500 Cortezians on their necks too."
He jokingly asked a customer inside the laundromat if he knew what that would trigger. "Cortezians don't want anyone messing in their village," he said.
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.