Public Meeting for Friendship Trail Bridge
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07/15/09 Lindsey Kratochwill
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Tuesday evening, the first of two public hearings to discuss the course of action for the Friendship Trail Bridge was held at the Weedon Island Cultural Center.

The Hillsborough public works department recently managed an engineering analysis of the structure of the bridge, which was closed in December. The analysis of the damage to the bridge was offered at the meeting by Dave Thompson.

With the findings of this analysis, four different alternatives were presented for consideration. Alternatives 3 and 4 include demolishing the entire bridge, with alternative 3 including building fishing piers on each side. Alternative 2 includes demolishing the center of the bridge and repairing the ends as cat walks. Alternative 1 is to repair the entire structure and keep the bridge standing. Bob Kersteen of the Friendship Trail Bridge Corporation, noted the high support for alternative 1.

One funding option that best fits alternative 1 could come from a federal stimulus program. In order to qualify, the project would either have to cost more than 20 million dollars, or apply for a waiver. Brian Smith, a Pinellas County Staff official, described the possibilities for the federal Tiger Grant.

Ben Ritter is the local government relations director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. He told the committee about the benefits the bridge has for the people he represents. He supports seeking the grant money.

Many who spoke, such as Doug Davidson of St. Petersburg, offered ideas to help the bridge become more profitable.

Joe Bates of Clearwater doesn’t think that the bridge restoration is economically logical. He doesn’t see it as something that would make enough money or jobs to deserve the grant.

However, former Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd says that the Tiger Grant does fit the restoration of the Trail Bridge.

Alan Snel of the South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, said the bridge is not only something for recreation, but also for greener transportation.

Beth Connor of St. Pete sees the range of people that enjoyed the bridge. This is something she strongly believes in, and would like to see the restoration of the bridge regardless of funding.

While nearly all who spoke supported the bridge’s restoration, there was what Frank Miller, of the Friendship Trail Bridge Corporation, called the “Gorilla in the room.” That is, the future of the bridge which is proposed to last for 10 years may still face demolition to build a new traffic bridge.

The next public meeting will be held tonight at 7 PM at the Jan Platt Library in Tampa. At the end of this meeting, the final recommendation will be made for the two County Commissions about which alternative should be further pursued. For more information, go to www.TrailBridge.org.

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