Hillsborough Commission delays Friendship Trail demolition

06/27/12 Seán Kinane
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The Friendship Trail Bridge has won at least a temporary reprieve from demolition. Wednesday the Hillsborough County Commission unanimously voted to delay approval of the contract to demolish the bicycle and pedestrian bridge running between South Tampa and the St. Pete area. Because of structural problems, the over-water trail has been closed for several years, but activists asked the commission to delay its decision to destroy the structure. Former Chicago commodities trader Tim Grossicle compared the Friendship Trail to Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Grossicle was one of sixteen people to speak at the beginning of the meeting in favor of delaying the decision to demolish the Friendship Trail Bridge, which parallels the Gandy Bridge. The time for public comment expired before fifteen others who signed up to speak were able to do so; they were given the opportunity to speak at the end of the meeting Wednesday afternoon. Alan Snell with Southwest Florida Bicycle United Dealers said maintaining the cross-Bay trail would enhance the region’s economic competitiveness.

One step the Commission could take would be to put a referendum on November’s ballot to ask Hillsborough County residents to increase their property taxes 21 cents per thousand dollars of taxable property value to rebuild the over-water park and support other county parks.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner made the motion to delay approval of the contract to demolish the Friendship Trail and decide on the referendum later. It was seconded by Mark Sharpe.

The commission delayed demolishing the bridge despite a warning from the county’s public utilities director, John Lyons.

Both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties own the bridge and share its costs. Hillsborough administrator Mike Merrill warned that he has had conversations with Pinellas administrator Robert LaSala who says there’s not much appetite among Pinellas Commissioners to spend more money on the bridge.

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