Friendship Bridge Report Meeting

05/26/09 Amy Beeman
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Hillsborough and Pinellas County’s Public Works departments met today in Tampa with the Friendship Trail Oversight Committee to hear the report about the options for saving the Friendship Trail Bridge.

Structural investigations of the Friendship Trailbridge last year, also known as the Old Gandy Bridge, led to its closing in December due to public safety concerns. Now, committees, engineers, and community leaders from both sides of the bay are working together to find a way to save the stretch of the Pinellas Trail where 600,000 people a year go to fish, jog, bike and roller-blade.

Frank Miller, executive director of the Friendship Trail Corp., a citizens organization that supports and assists with the amenities in operation with the Friendship Trail Bridge, as well as with other trails in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, says community members he hears from say it is imperative that the bridge stays in use for the public.

The engineering firms Kisinger Campo & Asociates and SDR Engineering Consultants have been studying the problem. Four options are offered by the engineering firms; three of those include disconnecting the bridge at the middle and keeping only the ends as fishing piers, but Miller says that isn’t what members of the community want. They want the counties to agree to the option of keeping the whole bridge in use.

Dave Thompson, a representative of the engineering firm Kisinger, Campo& associates, laid out four options for the future of the bridge.

The first is to repair the bridge and leave it as is, which would cost $15 million, but would only last 10 years. After the 10 years, the issue would be revisited, and if demolition is necessary, there would be additional costs.

At a cost of $10 million, Thomson says his firm could keep just the ends of the bridge open as fishing piers. However this option would disconnect the Pinellas trail, and the piers would only last 10 more years.

A third possibility would be to demolish the entire bridge and build new fishing piers in the same location, one in each county at a cost of $17 million.

The final option, Thompson says, is to demolish the bridge and build fishing piers in a new location, which would cost $20 million.

Citizen representative Miller says even though the total estimated cost to repair the bridge is $15 million, the initial cost would be $7 million, with an additional $4 million needed over 10 years for repairs and another $4 million for contingencies. He says that is a reasonable cost to keep the bridge open for the public.

Today’s meeting, held at 1 p.m., was announced at around 10:30 this morning, leaving little time for citizens to arrange to attend.

Two public meetings will be held in late June, one in Hillsborough and one in Pinellas County. Members of the community are encouraged to attend to tell their commissioners what they would like to see done with the bridge.

Pinellas County Planning Director, Brian Smith, says he thinks most people want to keep the bridge open for public use, but much will depend on funding. It is still not known how it will be paid for.

Pinellas and Hillsborough each have a $2 million budget for a combined $4 million toward refurbishing the bridge. A motion was passed at today’s meeting to apply for federal funding to cover some of all of the additional costs.

The public meetings on each side of the bay are planned for late June, but the exact dates are still to be announced.

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