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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Friendship Trail Bridge gets another reprieve

TAMPA - Hillsborough commissioners bucked their staff's recommendations and voted unanimously to delay awarding a contract to demolish the 56-year-old Friendship Trail Bridge. The vote was a victory for the ad hoc committee that first persuaded county commissioners in April to delay tearing down the bridge. The group, which mustered about 40 supporters to attend today's meeting, wants more time for engineers to investigate the strength and durability of the so-called "hump" spanning navigation the channel. Engineers for the county and from the support group say the hump is in better shape than the deteriorating lower spans because it is farther above the salt water in Old Tampa Bay. "We're happy they're giving us time to save this asset," said Kenneth Cowart, an architect and one of the spokesmen for the group.
Kevin Thurman, another of the group's leaders, said the delay will give supporters time to raise money for an engineering study of the hump. Thurman said the study could cost $80,000 to $200,000. The vote came despite a recommendation from the county Public Works Department to award a demolition contract to American Bridge Co. for $5.3 million. John Lyons, formerly the public works chief and now head of county utilities, told commissioners he is concerned that if the contract has to be put out for bids again, the job will cost more. "I think a realistic rebidding of this project would probably land in that $7 million to $8 million range," Lyons said. Seeking middle ground, Commissioner Al Higginbotham made a motion to lock in the contract at the $5.3 million price but delay execution until September so the support group could gather more information. But Cowart told commissioners that if engineering studies showed the hump could be preserved, the money saved from that preservation would be lost in the premium the contractor would charge for changing the scope of work. "You can lock in the $5.2 million, but you can't lock in the change order … You don't save the price for the partial demolition," Cowart said. Commissioner Kevin Beckner made a motion to delay the demolition contract until commissioners decided whether to put a property tax increase on the November ballot. The increase of 21 cents per thousand dollars worth of home value would be used for a 10-year, $80 million bond issue for parks and recreation projects, including $27.5 million to reconstruct the Friendship Trail Bridge.

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