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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019 2 weeks ago

The 30-year war on Cortez Bridge

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Anna Maria die-hards are continuing their 30-year war to stop a fixed-span bridge. From a practical, macro and economic standpoint, the fixed span makes sense. But then there’s that old commitment.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Here we go again. Another re-run.

For 30 years, groups of residents from Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Anna Maria and Cortez Village have fought what seems like a religious war — to stop Big Brother State Government from replacing the rickety, decaying Cortez Bridge drawbridge with a 65-foot-high, fixed-span bridge.

This time, it looks like the war might be at its end, though not without a last-gasp surge from a few of the old-time die-hards — current and former Manatee County commissioners Carol Whitmore, Joe McClash, Jane von Hahmann and John Chappie, who is currently mayor of Bradenton Beach. They, of course, have the backing of the environmental warriors of Manasota-88 and the Cortez Historical Society. And the commissions for Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria have dutifully voted to express their opposition to the bridge.

Their battle cry remains the same: “Don’t ruin the character of our communities!”

They have filed a petition asking a Florida administrative law judge to overturn the Florida Department of Transportation’s decision this past spring to begin, once and for all, the steps to construct a fixed-span Cortez Bridge.

Mayor Chappie, who has been involved in Bradenton Beach government and causes since 1985, is among the most passionate opponents, convinced the 65-foot fixed span “will destroy our community.”

This is so Florida. It happens all the time. Nostalgia takes over, along with fear of the unknown. Those who like what they have don’t want it to change.

Just look south and across the bay. Residents are becoming verbally hostile in their opposition to redevelopment and expansion of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Lido Beach residents protested a makeover of the dilapidated Lido Beach Pavilion. On Longboat Key, we had our own battles over proposals to replace the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and a  boutique hotel on the north end of the Key.

And, of course, long-time Longboaters will never forget the biggest fight of all against change and practical progress: the 10-year battle to stop the 65-foot, fixed-span Ringling Bridge.

How ironic. Even many of those who fought bitterly against the Ringling Bridge — invoking the same battle cry of ruining the character of Sarasota — now admit the Ringling Bridge is one of the best assets in the city. Sarasotans now proudly refer to the 65-foot span as the iconic Ringling Bridge.

Modern progress, technology, economics, practicality, common sense and the march of time are simply too much for nostalgia to stop. Indeed, for more than 20 years the trend throughout Florida — driven by its growth in population — has rendered bascule bridges increasingly obsolete. Fixed-span bridges make sense.

Look at the accompanying box. When you compare what’s wrong with the existing Cortez Bridge versus the improvements that come with a new, fixed-span bridge, common sense says there should be no debate.

Here is another indicator: In all the Florida communities where FDOT has erected fixed-span bridges, where’s the evidence that a fixed-span has destroyed a community? We would argue evidence shows the Ringling Bridge has added tremendous value to downtown Sarasota and the barrier islands.

We know opponents to the fixed span will shoot darts at Longboaters and accuse us of advocating for the fixed span out of our own selfish interests.

But from a long-term macro perspective, a fixed-span Cortez Bridge is in the best interests of efficient and safe transportation for existing residents and visitors alike. (As for a bridge to Longboat, this newspaper has supported that idea and still does.)

There are compelling arguments to build it.

But we also know there are other complicating factors still worthy to consider. See below.

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