Supporters propose repairs for Friendship TrailBridge
TAMPA - A group that hopes to save the Friendship TrailBridge released its proposals Wednesday on how to fix the deteriorating spans of the iconic bridge and how to raise the money to reopen it to the public. Called "A Vision Beyond Demolition," the slick 70-page report seems to cover all the bases demanded by Hillsborough County commissioners when they deferred voting on a contract to demolish the bridge April 4. The report from Friends of the Friendship Trail Bridge shows in detail how the bridge's structural engineering can be restored at a lower cost than estimated by companies previously hired by the county, and outlines a financial and marketing plan to pay for the repairs, future maintenance and transforming the 56-year-old structure into a cultural and recreational destination for millions of visitors. The report's authors estimate the TrailBridge can be opened in 2017 at a cost of $18.7 million. The bulk of that money — about $15 million — would be spent on demolishing the decking and supporting superstructure on the lower, approach spans of the bridge, and replacing them with prefabricated metal structures appropriate to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, instead of automobiles.Lesser amounts of money would be spent on repairing the piles and caps that rise out of the water and support the superstructure, as well as repairs to the center hump and higher-level spans, which the group says are mostly intact. The finished bridge would be lighter and more durable, the report says, with less weight on the supporting piles and caps. The superstructure will incorporate fishing platforms, vendor areas, covered picnic tables and floating boat slips. To raise money for the construction and the bridge maintenance, bridge supporters will form a nonprofit organization in partnership with the county. Supporters estimate $13 million for construction costs can be raised by donations. Another $6.5 million could be raised from government and grants, including $3 million the group hopes the county will donate from money saved by not demolishing the whole bridge. User fees, corporate sponsorships and vendor rentals will pay for ongoing maintenance. The supporters estimate the renovated bridge will last until 2047 or longer. They say the structure's unique and symbolic union of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, along with its scenic vistas, will make it a magnet for tourism and local visitors. They envision it as a Florida version of the successful High Line, a former elevated railroad line in Manhattan that is now a public park. Commissioners were set to approve a $5.2 million contract to demolish the 2.6-mile bridge at their April 4 meeting, but agreed to defer the vote for a month and a half to give supporters time to develop engineering and business plans. To see the plan go to http://friendshiptrailbridge.com/.