Stimulus sought for TrailBridge
August 6, 2009
Desperately searching for a way to keep the 53-year-old Friendship TrailBridge standing, Hillsborough County commissioners will seek federal stimulus funding for repairs.
The bridge, used by an estimated 600,000 hikers, bikers and fishermen each year until it was closed in November, is deteriorating because its steel supports are rusted and snapped and its concrete cracking.
Commissioners hope to team with Pinellas County to get a federal Tiger grant to cover the estimated $15 million repair bill. "Tiger" stands for Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery.
The county already is working on a Tiger grant application for $18 million for the Bruce B. Downs Boulevard widening project.
The application is a long shot: $1.5 billion is available for Tiger grants nationwide, and thousands of applications are expected. Each state can get no more than $300 million.
The limited scope of available grant money was one of the reasons Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Jim Norman gave for opposing the measure in the 5-2 vote Wednesday. They worry that applying for funding for bridge repairs could eliminate the Bruce B. Downs project from the running.
"I had a briefing from staff that said this could compete with our Bruce B. Downs project," Higginbotham said. "I have more constituents calling me on that than on the bridge."
He noted that the $15 million in repairs would only extend the span's life by 10 years; then it would have to be demolished because of its age.
Norman said that in 1997 he opposed taking $7 million from state transportation authorities in return for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties assuming joint ownership of the bridge. In 1999, the former span of the Gandy Bridge reopened as the Friendship TrailBridge.
"I went to experts that told me this is a ticking time bomb," he said. "The structure inside can expand and explode the beams, and things fall apart."
Norman and Higginbotham supported a substitute motion that the county only apply for the grant if the Bruce B. Downs project could be given priority over the bridge. That motion failed, with only Norman and Higginbotham voting yes.
Commissioner Rose Ferlita's motion to apply for the grant passed. Commissioner Mark Sharpe seconded the motion, saying it's the job of elected officials to bring private and public groups together to solve problems. The bridge, Sharpe said, is an economic development tool that will help bring people to the area.
"Let's compete for it and see if we can get the money, ... and let's come up with a positive plan for how we can be successful," he said.
Pinellas County is taking the lead on the grant. The Pinellas commission will vote Aug. 18.
Hillsborough's public works director, Bob Gordon, said applications with regional impact, such as the bridge repair, should score higher in grant ranking. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is also expected to pass a resolution in support of the grant application, he said.
The application must be submitted by Sept. 15. Recipients will be announced in February.
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