Friends of Friendship Trail Bridge try to shore up support

By Robbyn Mitchell, Times Staff Writer

Published Friday, July 10, 2009

TAMPA — Leaders of the Friendship Trail Corp. are calling on lovers of the 2.6-mile bridge on both sides of the bay to come to public meetings next week and speak up to save the bridge.

Engineers shuttered the scenic jogging, running, bicycling, skating and fishing Friendship Trail Bridge in November 2008 because of structural problems and safety concerns.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties had been set to split the cost of $4.2 million in repairs beginning in November 2008. Then a final inspection turned up trouble.

Steel tendons that support the span were eroding quickly, cracking in some places and sending shards of concrete into the bay.

In the months since its closing, local politicians have yet to approve its demolition.

The engineers said any repair would likely last 10 years, at which point the bridge likely would still need to be torn down.

An outpouring of support from bay area residents could lead decisionmakers to bring back the beloved landmark, said Ben Ritter, government relations director of the local Paralyzed Veterans of America chapter and Friendship Trail Corp. member.

"I would be very surprised if there is any room for everyone to be at these meetings," Ritter said. "Pinellas Parks and Recreation put out report saying every year 600,000 people use the bridge. People love the Friendship Trail Bridge."

The nonprofit group organized meetings Tuesday and Wednesday and wants to encourage county commissioners to apply for federal funding to extend the bridge's life for another 10 years, said Frank Miller, executive director of the Friendship Trail Corp. It would take a reported $15 million to complete the project, he said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant has an available $1.5 billion in funding. A minimum of $20 million is rewarded for projects.

"If the bridge is demolished, it will be the taxpayers of the two counties who pay for that," Miller said. "Why not try to get federal funds to fix it if that money is going to be spent some place already? The $1.5 billion is already allocated for deserving projects. We are deserving."

The bridge oversight committee, which includes two commissioners from each county, will vote directly after Wednesday's meeting on what to recommend to each county commission.

Fast facts

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• The first public meeting will be held Tuesday at

4 p.m. in the Weedon Island Preserve Education Center at 1800 Weedon Drive NE in St. Petersburg.

• The second meeting will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Jan Platt Library at 3910 S Manhattan Ave. in Tampa.

• Check for more information.

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