BRADENTON -- Since its construction in 1956, the two-lane Cortez bridge has seen a lot of cars go over, and nearly as many boats travel under. But it's not just a link to the island; it's where many locals caught their first fish, go to watch boats or take their morning walk. To all who live in the fishing village and many who visit, it is a monument of memory.
But time is taking its toll on the almost 60 year-old structure, slowly corroding its pilings and steel, never getting a time-out from the 24/7 use of beach-goers and other interests that a historical fishing village attracts.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has designated the Cortez bridge a priority project; identifying structural compromise and aging roads is what piques FDOT's interest to so.
Any reconstruction of the bridge must conform to new bridge regulations, and at Tuesday's BOCC meeting, FDOT proposed to present four different bridge options to the commission and residents.
FDOT project manager Tony Sherrard and Douglas Reed, the Group Manager for Atkins North America Inc., introduced commissioners to the design options they have conceived for the Cortez Bridge's future.
They proposed a time line for workshops and meeting dates, and let the board know what secured finances would be required to move forward toward a long-term remedy.
Currently, temporary repair work is being done that should provide enough time to make the long-term decision. These provisional repairs are expected to keep the bridge functional for up to a decade.
But FDOT's options have to pass the muster with local Cortez residents before it becomes relevant to the commission. In Cortez, they have a motto: Don't mess with Cortez, and citizens are already taking their position.
Local village coordinator and bridge fighter, Linda Molto said precisely that on Tuesday, which wasn't her first rodeo. 20 years ago when FDOT last stepped into the Cortez scene to build a new bridge, Molto and fell citizens convinced them to reconsider.
"Cortez is like nowhere else," said Molto. "It's a thriving fishing village, the only one of its kind left in the state." Molto added, "People come to eat seafood, boat tours and visit the commercial fish houses."
Molto certainly isn't alone. Every Cortezian I talked to shares her concerns. Joe Kane said, "Here we go again, County Commissioners along with FDOT trying to alter the lifestyle of the island and Cortez," adding, "They want to maximize the dollars by filling up the island."
To date, FDOT's efforts have only produced surveys that ask whether a new or a rehabbed bridge is in order. Rehabbing the bridge is the overwhelming winner.
FDOT's next steps are to collect field data on environmental and social issues, discuss boat height and look at other options. Then they will start evaluating bridge degradation and perform load analysis.
After all studies are done, workshops and meetings will be scheduled (the first expected in late 2013, or early 2014).
A Project Development and Environmental (PD&E) will then be in order, which will require some financial commitment in order to go forward; Commissioners were most concerned with that caveat.
All in all, if there is reasonable compromise as to just how the bridge's future is to evolve, FDOT says they are still looking at a project that could take until 2020 or 2022 to be be complete.
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