Hillsborough Commissioners vote in favor of Friendship Trail Bridge

08/05/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Hillsborough County Commissioners voted today to continue efforts to keep the Friendship Trail Bridge, the only recreational bridge that connects Tampa to St. Petersburg.

The bridge has been closed since last Christmas, and engineers say it could cost $15 million to maintain. Making the decision difficult is that consultants say those repairs would maintain the bridge for only 10 more years.

Commissioner Al Higgenbotham referred to the short life span of the bridge after the repairs, and said it verged on being fiscally irresponsible to spend that much money.

Actually, consultants have said that if the Bridge were to get that $15 million in funding, it would need more funding after 10 years to stay afloat.

Commissioner Jim Norman was also a skeptic. The longtime board member revisited the discussions about the bridge from a decade ago. He said ‘prognosticators’ had predicted that if the bridge received funding then, it would last 40 years. Norman said he feared that applying for a so-called TIGER Grant could hurt a similar proposal for funding for Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in North Tampa.

The TIGER -- or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery -- Grants are intended for transportation infrastructure, including trails and the like. They're part of the Federal Stimulus bill. But Norman said with the entire grant being a billion and a half dollars, there was no guarantee that if the Friendship Trail won an award, it would be that substantial.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said that it would cost the community millions of dollars just to demolish the bridge. And he blasted those who didn’t want to fight to keep the bridge alive.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, bicycling advocate Alan Snel called the Friendship Trail a vital resource for the Tampa Bay area.

Commissioners said they will work with Pinellas County and hopefully Tampa and St. Petersburg to find a way to maintain the bridge, and approved a resolution 5-2, with Al Higgenbotham and Jim Norman dissenting.

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