MANATEE -- An effort to include studying the possibility of four-laning a replacement for the Cortez Bridge was nixed Monday by members of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Phill Younger, an MPO commissioner representing the town of Longboat Key, suggested that a study under way about the bridge's future should include the possibility of widening it from its current two lanes to four.
Younger said he was not necessarily advocating a four-lane bridge, just suggesting the issue of whether the study should consider a larger bridge.
He noted "things change," and questioned how recently the capacity of the bridge had been reviewed.
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His suggestion hit a buzzsaw of opposition from board members representing both Sarasota and Manatee counties, who finally halted discussion of the topic through a procedural motion.
"It doesn't pass the common sense test," said Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, noting that officials from at least four local municipalities that are directly involved were not even at the meeting.
Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Rob
inson objected to allowing discussion of the matter because it had not been listed on the board's meeting agenda, and those representing beach communities might want to weigh in on the topic, she said.
Board members halted discussion against the wishes of Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle, who also chairs the MPO, a regional transportation planning agency.
Bustle argued capacity of the bridge "has to be one of the criteria you have to look at" as part of the study, which is now under way under the auspices of the Florida Department of Transportation.
The Project Development and Environment Study is slated for completion during the summer of 2015, Tony Sherrard, FDOT's senior project manager, told the board at its meeting at the Holiday Inn, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota.
It is meant to determine the best alternative for the future of the deteriorating bridge.
FDOT officials are not addressing any capacity issues in their study of the bridge, since it is considered to be "constrained" to two lanes, Sherrard said.
Opponents listed many reasons not to discuss four-laning the bridge, citing in particular the importance of preserving the historic Village of Cortez on its east end.
"The question for me is: Are you destroying a historic area?" said Sarasota Commissioner Nora Patterson.
The cost of repairing or replacing the Cortez Bridge is expected to range anywhere from $9.7 million to $96.5 million.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.