Platt Street Bridge restoration officially complete

06/20/12 Janelle Irwin
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As Tampa officials get ready for a flood of visitors during the Republican National Convention in August, they’re making some infrastructure improvements. Officials from Hillsborough County and Tampa celebrated the completion of improvements to the Platt Street Bridge today in Tampa after spending 11 million dollars restoring it. Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said the bridge was falling apart - it either needed to be replaced or restored.

“And 35,000 cars go across this bridge each day. So, if we absolutely didn’t have the access for the residents for this bridge, it would cause, really, a lot of problems in other arteries. So, it wasn’t just to restore it for its beauty. It was really more of a public safety issue than anything.”

Drivers headed north on Bayshore Boulevard cross the Platt Street Bridge before going underneath Tampa Convention Center on their way into downtown. The renovation was funded through the community investment tax and supplemented with about two and a half million dollars in federal money. Across town at the Occupy Tampa encampment in West Tampa, Shawn Samuels said he wants to see public funding being used to help less fortunate residents instead.

“Well, I think that money could have been used in better places like to address the homeless situation because there’s already 22,000 plus homeless here in Tampa and I think the money could have gone to helping those people out because there’s not a viable homeless shelter here in Tampa. I know at the Salvation Army they charge per night to stay there and at another so-called homeless shelter, they charge them to stay there per night.”

But to Samuels, it’s just another example of making the city prettier for the flood of people expected during the Republican convention. In a meeting last month, Tampa City council’s Yvonne Capin suggested using a parking garage as a sort of temporary overnight shelter for people who don’t have a place to sleep. Samuels is glad someone is considering people who will be displaced by the convention, but it’s not enough.

“The use of a parking garage would be only a temporary structure during the RNC because after the RNC is over with, that’s still going to be their problem right there. There’s still going to be 22,000 plus people, homeless, still in Tampa.”

Council member Harry Cohen said he doubts that will happen. Instead, he says city council will look into ways to mitigate the blazing August heat.

“We’re going to be getting a report, for example, from our Parks and Recreation department about their plans for dispensing water and cooling. We’re going to be hearing from the Tampa police department about some of the things that they’re going to do to make people more comfortable. In my view, the most dangerous thing about this convention is the heat – is the fact that protesters and visitors and delegates and journalists are all going to be outside and I don’t know if they quite recognize how hot it gets the last week of August.”

Cohen said he hasn’t heard any criticism about the Platt Bridge restoration. And he doesn’t expect to either.

“This was rehabilitation of a bridge that is a major transportation artery between a huge quadrant of the city and our downtown business district. So, this work had to be done. There was not a choice in terms of doing it. The fact that it was done so quickly, that is was done under budget, the fact that the result is beautiful and are something that we’re proud of are wonderful things, but the underlying need for the project was absolutely crystal clear to all of us.”

Instead of replacing the entire bridge, contractors repaired and restored it. County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said it brought the bridge into the future, while still keeping its charm.

“I am pleased that we were able to find a way to keep the original design of this bridge and in fact, enhance its historic architecture.”

And Commissioner Murman also wants to collaborate with Tampa and federal officials to have Bayshore Boulevard designated as a scenic highway. She said that designation used to come with some grant money.

“We’re working with Cathy Castor’s office and trying to see if there’s a way we can bring that back. Bayshore Boulevard is probably one of the most historic, long streets in all the state of Florida and it deserves to be preserved just like this bridge.”

The Platt Street Bridge closed to traffic in October of last year and re-opened in January. The 105-day closure was nicknamed “plattageddon”. Local officials celebrated the completion of the bridge’s restoration today with a unique ribbon cutting. They drove 1920s-style cars and modern electric vehicles through the ribbon. The bridge was closed for about five minutes during the ceremony.

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