The Florida Department of Transportation is officially recommending a 65-foot-high fixed bridge to replace the aging Cortez Bridge connecting mainland Manatee County to Anna Maria Island.
According to a media release, FDOT staff have already begun designing the new bridge. Land acquisition for project right-of-way has already been funded. Funding for the construction of the bridge has not been funded yet.
In their recommendation, FDOT officials said they prioritized safety, cost and walkability. The 35-foot drawbridge alternative would cost nearly $24 million more than the 65-foot fixed bridge, and allow boats to pass underneath without holding up traffic.
FDOT pointed to prior research that shows that most survey respondents supported the taller bridge. On top of that, most boats in the area would be able to sail under it, according to a release.
Studies show that only 33 percent of boats could pass under a 35-foot drawbridge without having to pull the drawbridge up. That pales in comparison to the 98 percent of boats that could safely pass under the 65-foot variant.
In a 204-page engineering report, FDOT staff pointed out the need to replace the bridge in order to address “structural and functional deficiencies.” The Cortez Bridge was constructed in 1956.
FDOT began its project development and environment study in January 2013, and the study concluded last month. In an interview with the Bradenton Herald, county Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she believes there’s still time for her fellow board members to change FDOT’s recommendation.
“This is going to completely destroy the character of a 160-year-old fishing village,” Whitmore said. “I’m very disappointed because I know for a fact that FDOT could build a 45-foot bridge that’s less obtrusive for the island and local businesses.”
“There’s a lot the board could do when we stand firm. Our state legislators listen to us when we vote as a whole. That’s how we got the diverging diamond on University Parkway,” she added.