Platt Street Bridge restoration officially complete listen06/20/12 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:
As Tampa officials get ready for a flood of visitors during the Republican National Convention in August, theyâ€™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.
â€œAnd 35,000 cars go across this bridge each day. So, if we absolutely didnâ€™t have the access for the residents for this bridge, it would cause, really, a lot of problems in other arteries. So, it wasnâ€™t just to restore it for its beauty. It was really more of a public safety issue than anything.â€
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.
â€œWell, I think that money could have been used in better places like to address the homeless situation because thereâ€™s already 22,000 plus homeless here in Tampa and I think the money could have gone to helping those people out because thereâ€™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.â€
But to Samuels, itâ€™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 councilâ€™s Yvonne Capin suggested using a parking garage as a sort of temporary overnight shelter for people who donâ€™t have a place to sleep. Samuels is glad someone is considering people who will be displaced by the convention, but itâ€™s not enough.
â€œThe use of a parking garage would be only a temporary structure during the RNC because after the RNC is over with, thatâ€™s still going to be their problem right there. Thereâ€™s still going to be 22,000 plus people, homeless, still in Tampa.â€
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.
â€œWeâ€™re going to be getting a report, for example, from our Parks and Recreation department about their plans for dispensing water and cooling. Weâ€™re going to be hearing from the Tampa police department about some of the things that theyâ€™re going to do to make people more comfortable. In my view, the most dangerous thing about this convention is the heat â€“ is the fact that protesters and visitors and delegates and journalists are all going to be outside and I donâ€™t know if they quite recognize how hot it gets the last week of August.â€
Cohen said he hasnâ€™t heard any criticism about the Platt Bridge restoration. And he doesnâ€™t expect to either.
â€œThis 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 weâ€™re proud of are wonderful things, but the underlying need for the project was absolutely crystal clear to all of us.â€
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.
â€œI 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.â€
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.
â€œWeâ€™re working with Cathy Castorâ€™s office and trying to see if thereâ€™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.â€
The Platt Street Bridge closed to traffic in October of last year and re-opened in January. The 105-day closure was nicknamed â€œplattageddonâ€. Local officials celebrated the completion of the bridgeâ€™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.