FDOT and Longboat officials favor a high-rise replacement for the 1950s era span. But a lot of others aren't sure that's the best choice for the area.
Longboat Key resident Ed Kolodzieski realized he was speaking against the tide of some of his neighbors.
But in a room at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Bradenton, there he was, saying he was willing to accept continued drawbridge-induced traffic backups in the name of aesthetics.
Kolodzieski and about 160 others were on hand to hear Florida Department of Transportation representatives recently talk about three options for replacing the aging Cortez Bridge, which Longboaters depend on to travel to mainland Manatee County and beyond.
And as frequently as Longboaters complain about slow progress to and from the mainland -- especially during the winter months when visitor traffic swells the beachside population -- Kolodzieski said he was OK "to wait five more minutes and preserve the nature of Cortez Village and Bradenton Beach.”
It's a question of appearance and character vs. science and efficiency.
FDOT hopes to have a proposal ready by the end of the year for the 1950s-era bridge. It's three options are:
- Fixing or rehabbing the existing 17.5 foot-high drawbridge. This option has the lowest total cost of the three options at about $10.7 million, but it also has the shortest service life, which would last about 10 years.
- Replacing the bridge with a 35-foot-high drawbridge. With a 75-year service life, it would come with a total cost of more than $104 million.
- Replacing the bridge with a 65-foot-high fixed bridge. It would have the same service life as the 35-foot option, but it would come at a total cost of about $72 million.
FDOT favors the high-rise version, similar to Sarasota's Ringling Bridge, which was opened 2003 to replace a drawbridge. The department will accept written comments from the public about its options through Sept. 12.
Likewise, the town of Longboat Key favors a high-rise span to eliminate drawbridge delays.
In a letter to FDOT, Longboat Key leaders said: “Other communities have seen high fixed-span bridges replace drawbridges with great success. For example, the city of Sarasota went from initially objecting to the higher fixed span bridge (during the planning process) to embracing it as a defining element of their city. The John Ringling Causeway is now considered an iconic landmark and is a prominent and celebrated component of the Sarasota landscape.”
“The people who live in Cortez and Bradenton Beach, their voice should be heard,” Kolodzieski said. “I would support 35 (feet) and I would support the current bridge, but I am completely against changing the complexion of this community.”
“It’s so unique, and there’s not many places that are left like this,” he continued. “I think we need to protect them.”
Likewise, Tom Freiwald of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force -- which concerns itself with helping find solutions to traffic problems on the island -- said separately that he's in favor of a 35-foot bridge because it would limit the number of necessary drawbridge openings, allowing for traffic to flow more freely.
A 65-foot bridge would be out-of-place in its setting, he said.
“We’re happy FDOT really took this seriously and decided to do something,” Freiwald said. “We’re happy with the progress.”
Kolodzieski referred to the 65-foot option as a “monstrosity” that would be completely out-of-character an “old Florida community.”
The Longboater’s comments were met with applause from the crowd. Out of the more than 20 speakers at the meeting, most of whom live in Cortez Village or Anna Maria Island, only one said he is in favor of the 65-foot fixed bridge.
Along with the aesthetics of the fixed bridge, speakers raised concerns including potential environmental ramifications and safety issues during high wind events such as hurricanes.
FDOT began its project development and environmental study of the Cortez Bridge in early 2013.
Like many speakers, Cortez resident Jane von Hahmann voiced support for the no-build option, leaving the bridge at its current height, but she noted that the 35-foot bridge could be a fair compromise. However, she affirmed her stance to FDOT against the fixed bridge possibility.
“We are not Bird Key. We are not Siesta Key,” von Hahmann said. “We really don’t want to look like that at all.”