Commissioners wary of study on Cortez Bridge

MANATEE -- A proposed state study that could lead to a new Cortez Bridge has two Manatee County commissioners worried that an old plan to erect a fixed span across Sarasota Bay will resurface.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to spend $1.65 million in fiscal year 2012-13 for a feasibility study about replacing the 54-year-old drawbridge that connects the village of Cortez to Bradenton Beach.

The study will investigate whether the state should build another drawbridge or erect a different type of structure, according to Michael Howe, Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s executive director.

But commissioners Carol Whitmore and John Chappie, both former island mayors, said an early 1990s study in which the public opposed the idea of a high, fixed-span bridge contains all the information FDOT needs.

Residents and business owners on both sides of the bridge said a proposed 65-foot-high fixed bridge would be too steep and that widening the approaches to the new bridge would ruin the aesthetic nature of Cortez and Bradenton Beach.

“I want to lay this baby to rest,” said Whitmore, who was a Holmes Beach commissioner when the study was done and later became the city’s mayor.

“You destroy two communities that way,” said Commissioner John Chappie, a former Bradenton Beach mayor.

During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners asked County Administrator Ed Hunzeker to set up a meeting with an FDOT representative to discuss the study.

“I don’t support a fixed-span bridge on Cortez,” Whitmore said. “We would be destroying some of the historical village of Cortez. It just doesn’t make sense.

“If the structure has to be replaced, I’m OK with that, as long as it’s still a drawbridge.”

Howe said FDOT’s funding plan is subject to approval by the Florida Transportation Committee. It then must be included in Gov. Rick Scott’s next state budget, which must be approved by the Florida Legislature.

Howe said a fixed span is an alternative FDOT must study to make sure it is not the best environmental option.

“I would concur that it is highly unlikely that would be the preferred option for that location,” he said. “It’s just too tight.

“The requirement typically when you’re spending state and federal dollars is they want a more current study. There have been changes in transportation and land use since the first study was done.”

The FDOT plan also includes $5.3 million in fiscal year 2013-14 for a Cortez Bridge rehabilitation. Howe said the rehabilitation should add about 10 years to the life of the existing bridge.