Uproar over proposed replacement for aging Cortez Bridge

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Transportation has announced plans to replace an aging drawbridge leading into Anna Maria Island, but locals are in an uproar.

Community members say the project will destroy their way of life.

Since 1956, the Cortez Bridge has connected the mainland to beautiful Anna Maria Island, but officials say its showing its age.

The bridge is deteriorating, it’s too narrow, and when the drawbridge is up it causes long traffic backups.

So after a long study, FDOT announced it will be replaced with this 65-foot fixed span bridge. The $72 million construction project will begin after 2026.

Officials say the study found it’s more economical to replace the bridge than fix the current one.

For some, the new project is a welcomed sight.

“I think that it’s a good idea if in the long run, you’re gonna have a better working area. You have to sacrifice now to get better later on,” said Karen Marino.

But others hate it.

“They should not change this historical bridge at all, it should stay the same,” said one woman.

Locals are worried this will ruin businesses and destroy the way of life for the Historic Cortez fishing village. The community has been around for 150 years.

“The houses closest to the road, they’re going to get stuck basically living under a bridge,” said Kim Shepherd, owner of Annie’s Bait and Tackle.

Some also feel the new bridge will do little to address traffic concerns.

“The island is staying the same size, it’s still gonna get backed up,” said Shepherd.

“The same number of cars is going to try to come over the bridge that comes now,” said another woman.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore is especially worried for the small community’s future.

“We’re going to hide [the businesses], nobody’s going to be able to find them,” said County commissioner Carol Whitmore.

She prefers an alternate design– a new drawbridge that sits at 45 feet.

She’s working with state lawmakers to stop this project.

“Its not gonna happen hopefully, I’m going to keep fighting hard to make sure it doesn’t,” said Whitmore. “I respect FDOT 100% but I’m not going to let this happen.”

We’ll keep you updated as this fight continues.

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