CORTEZ -- Officials and members of the public attending a Florida Department of Transportation open house will discuss the future of the Cortez Bridge this week.
The FDOT meeting from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, 248 S. Harbor Dr., is part of a state study of the bridge built in the 1950s, which is now being repaired at an estimated cost of $4 million.
Repairs include the span, beams, pilings, seawall, bridge tender house and an electric system upgrade. The project, which began in late April and is expected to be completed by early 2015, will shore up areas weakened by saltwater corrosion.
FDOT officials warn the repairs are relatively short-lived.
"The repairs that are currently being performed on the bridge will only extend its life for 10 years," said Tony Sherrard, project manager of the study, which began in January 2013.
The engineering and environmental study is meant to determine the best avenue for the bridge moving forward.
At the open house, the public can question FDOT representatives as a video is played explaining alternatives -- repair, rehabilitation or build, which would replace the bridge and extend its life until 2099.
According to FDOT officials, replacement alternatives for the two-lane include a low-level or mid-level drawbridge and a high-level fixed bridge. Only two-lane structures are being studied because Cortez Road is a constrained roadway.
"We want people to come to the meeting with an open mind, to look at all the alternatives -- the same thing we're doing," said Robin Stublen, FDOT communications specialist for District One.
Stublen emphasized FDOT officials do not yet have a favorite option.
"We look in the long term at what's going to best fit the needs of citizens and future growth -- all those things are taken into consideration," he said. "We need to think not just short term, but way beyond that time and what's going to be best for ourselves and future residents of this area -- and travelers as well."
The 1-mile repair project will be completed by the summer 2015, according to Sherrard.
"We had some people that want to replace (Cortez Bridge), some people that just want to repair it," said Sherrard. "We're having varying opinions."
According to Sherrard, the least expensive alternative is no build/repair, which could keep the bridge safe and operable for as much as another decade.
So far, Sherrard said it's premature to predict whether the Cortez Bridge will have to be replaced altogether.
"It's going to have to be addressed at some time," he said.
For more information on the study, go to cortezbridge.com.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.