Cortez Bridge repair project not without its bumps

CORTEZ -- It's not drivers' imaginations: There's some bumpiness on the decades-old Cortez Bridge.

And according to the Florida Department of Transportation, the bumps are a necessary part of the deal, as crews make needed repairs.

On Sept. 30, FDOT Construction Project Manager Ray Callahan wrote an email to Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie explaining the bumpiness.

"The bumpy ride currently experienced at the Cortez bridge is a necessary consequence caused by jacking (lifting) the bridge in accordance with the bridge plans," Callahan wrote. "The span is lifted to remove and replace the expansion bearings."

FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen said this is just part of the process of repairing a bridge.

"There's nothing to be concerned about. There's nothing to worry about," Stublen said. "This is quite simply a matter of the bridge repairs and it will be over soon."

Stublen added there's a sign warning the public about the bumpiness.

Weather permitting, the process of lifting the span before installing new bearings takes about a week to complete per span, according to Callahan. A total of 12 new expansion-bearing spans are expected to be installed.

"There's four left and we're

anticipating it will be done by middle of November," said Brian Bollas, a public information officer for the repair project.

The bridge, which was built in the 1950s, is being repaired at an estimated cost of $4 million. Repairs include the span, beams, pilings, seawall, bridge tender house and an electrical system upgrade.

The multimillion-dollar repair project began in late-April and is expected to be completed by early 2015. Lane closures for the duration of the repair project occur only between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. From midnight to 5 a.m., there are extended bridge openings lasting up to 15 minutes.

The Cortez Bridge sits in a naturally corrosive saltwater environment, which causes the need for routine maintenance and repairs. FDOT officials say the repair project will extend the life of the bridge for 10 years.

In addition to the repair project, there is also a Cortez Bridge Project Development and Environment study being conducted by the FDOT to determine the best avenue for the bridge moving forward.

Bradenton resident Rick Stewart, 52, drove his GMC pickup truck with a boat in tow over the Cortez Bridge about three weeks ago. On the way to Anna Maria Island from Cortez, he said he experienced a big bump.

"I hit it and it was startling," Stewart said. "It was like hitting a major pothole."

Stewart said he thought he hit a concrete curb.

"If a person doesn't know it's there, it could cause them to lose control," he said.

According to Stewart, the ride from the island back to Cortez was much smoother.

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.