BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - After years of studying, the Florida Department of Transportation has decided to replace the Cortez Bridge on State Road 684 in Manatee County.
The study, which cost $2.1 million, began in January 2013 and looked at the various options from engineering and environmental perspectives, including repairing, rehabbing or replacing the bridge, which was built in the mid-1950s.
Following completion of their analysis in September 2019, as well as public hearings where they listened to comments, FDOT decided the best option is to replace the existing bridge with a 65-foot, high-level fixed bridge.
FDOT rejected the other options, which included a no-build repair, a rehabilitation alternative, a low-level drawbridge and a 35-food mid-level drawbridge for several reasons, including that a 65-foot fixed bridge will improve vehicle and boat traffic, eliminating congestion and delays caused by the existing drawbridge openings.
“The great advantage of that of course is not only to maritime traffic but also to pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” said Brian Rick, Spokesperson for FDOT.
Below is an image showing the difference in the height of the bridge compared to the current bridge:
FDOT says 98 percent of boats that currently require the existing bridge to open safely would be able to navigate under the 65-foot fixed bridge and the remaining two percent that are taller than 65 feet typically moor at facilities near the mouth of the Manatee River.
FDOT says the mid-level drawbridge would only support 33 percent of boats without needing to open. FDOT also says crossing the mid-level drawbridge by car would take 4.15 minutes, compared to 2.38 minutes on the 65-foot fixed bridge.
The new 65-foot fixed bridge will cost $72.9 million, which FDOT says is around $23.8 million less than the mid-level drawbridge, and adds the fixed bridge will not require ongoing repairs and has no chance of breaking down, which could be a disaster during an emergency situation.
Below is a video showing a simulation of the bridge:
FDOT adds that around 75 percent of public comments received showed a preference for the 65-foot fixed bridge. But at least one Manatee County commissioner isn’t on board.
“I would just ask them to think about the commitments that they made and think about the village that’s over 100 years old that they will destroy if they do this,” said Carol Whitmore. “It’s already going to take right of way and go by eminent domain and take people’s businesses away to do this."
Whitmore is also afraid the huge bridge will destroy the character of the village. "If it’s one person that will beat Goliath, I will be that person. It’s nothing against FDOT. I just know that right now they can still consider bringing the bridge height down to 45-feet and maintain the fishing village an everything surrounding it,” said Whitmore.
Currently, FDOT says they are now in the design phase for the new bridge but the project does not have funding in their five-year work program and it’s not likely to be built until sometime in the mid-2020s.