As state officials mull which alternative to select for a new Cortez Bridge, the topic of a third bridge connecting the mainland to the islands has resurfaced.
A Northwest Bradenton couple recently sent a letter to Florida Department of Transportation urging officials to consider extending 53rd Avenue West over Sarasota Bay and to the north end of Longboat Key.
“Then all you need to do to the current Cortez Bridge is maintain it to keep it safe, as it is, for very local traffic use and as an extra emergency access on and off the island,” Roger and Judith Meyer wrote in the April 16 letter, also sent to the Bradenton Herald.
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But FDOT contends a third bridge “would result in significant environmental impacts and present a huge challenge with funding,” according to a letter sent from L.K. Nandam, FDOT District One secretary, in response to the Meyers.
“A new bridge will not fit the purpose and need of the current PD&E study, which is to address the deteriorating structural condition and substandard features of the existing bridge,” Nandam stated in the letter. “Therefore, no improvements outside the existing corridor were considered. As such, we cannot include a new bridge in the current study.”
The impacts of a new alignment to mangroves, wetlands/seagrasses and protected species would be extensive.
L.K. Nandam, FDOT District One Secretary
The state has yet to make a decision of whether to replace the Cortez Bridge with a new bridge built to the north of the current bridge or whether the replacement will be a high-level fixed bridge — like the one that will replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge to the north.
FDOT is reviewing four alternatives for the span connecting Cortez with Anna Maria Island: a 21-foot vertical clearance drawbridge, a 35-foot vertical clearance drawbridge, a 65-foot vertical clearance fixed bridge and just repairing the current bridge.
“The purpose of the current Cortez Bridge Project Development and Environment study is to address the structural condition of the existing bridge, not evaluate a new bridge in a new location,” Nandam said. “Even if a new bridge were to be constructed somewhere else, the existing bridge still needs to be repaired or replaced. The existing bridge continues to deteriorate due to corrosion from the salt water, and it has outdated features unsuitable for today’s traveling public. Repairs cannot fully address the existing substandard bridge cross section since the drawbridge’s mechanical system prohibits widening.”
LBK ‘already developed’
Prior to responding to the Meyers, FDOT “conceptually reviewed the documented environmental resources in the potential study area,” according to the letter.
“The north end of Longboat Key is already developed with residential, commercial, recreational and institutional land uses,” Nandam said.
Nandam continued on to note other facts that could impede a third bridge at the proposed location, including the fact that the new bridge would not be on an existing state road.
“The new bridge (potentially 14,000 feet long) would be on the order of five times longer than the existing bridge along SR 684 (Cortez Road) corridor (approximately 3,000 feet),” he said. “This would result in a cost for bridge construction of over $200,000,000 not including the necessary roadway improvements, right-of-way, stormwater management facilities, mitigation, design and the new PD&E study. ...The impacts of a new alignment to mangroves, wetlands/seagrasses and protected species would be extensive.”
Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock pointed to the ongoing FDOT study looking at barrier islands to mainland mobility as a way to “try to improve the traffic on the barrier island.”
“In that, we are expecting to have short-term and long-term recommendations to improve access to and from the barrier islands,” he said.
Judith Meyer says she will continue to advocate for a third bridge.
“That’s the problem with government right now,” she told the Herald this week. “They all have reasons why ‘no,’ instead of trying to find solutions trying to give us a ‘yes.’ ...With all the growth happening on Longboat Key, that’s where they need a bridge. I can’t imagine how anyone will be satisfied with that response.”
Planned development in the 53rd Avenue West and 75th Street West area, such as Lake Flores, highlights the need for a third bridge, Meyer said.
“That bridge is the bridge they should use to get to the island,” she said.
Manatee County resident Judy Stahle, who also wrote a letter to the editor last month, noted the property at the end of 53rd Avenue West along Sarasota Bay is owned by developer Carlos Beruff, who hopes to build the proposed Aqua by the Bay nearby.
“It will never happen because Carlos will never let go of that land,” Stahle said this week.
Stahle agrees that it would be difficult to construct the bridge without having environmental impacts.
“It seems like such a long shot to me,” she said.
Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said “this idea that another bridge is going to solve the problem, I just don’t think so.”
“We are going to have to get a little bit more creative than that, folks,” she said. “You need to have alternative forms of transportation. We need to be able to have alternatives.”