Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

End of the Friendship Trail? Maybe not

The voices of citizens, the thumbs-up from fellow politicians, the 600,000 yearly visits by outdoor enthusiasts — none of that was enough to persuade the Pinellas County Commission to vote to save the Friendship Trail Bridge.

Okay, slight exaggeration. Make that: None of that was enough to get them to try to save it with a really, really promising idea.

Earlier this month, commissioners voted unanimously against going after at least $20 million in federal stimulus money to fix what ails our bridge. They also sent an oversight committee back to again look at options, but bridge enthusiasts feared their no vote could mark the end of the Friendship Trail.

Can a 2.6-mile recreational bridge, even an immensely popular one, survive these times?

Here's the dilemma: We can spend $15 million to make the aging bridge that stretches across the water between Hills­borough and Pinellas structurally safe for the cyclists, runners, skaters and strollers who flock there for another 10 years. And yes, the fact that the fix is only good for 10 years is a legitimate concern.

Or, we can pay $13 million to knock it down, a cool and unique park gone for good.

The old Gandy Bridge, which reopened as a car-free mecca 10 years ago, was abruptly shut down last year because of deterioration. Things looked bad for the bridge, because who was going to vote to spend money to save it?

But: It would cost only $2 million less to destroy it.

And: Maybe they could find some clever funding.

And: It turned out people really, really like the bridge.

Hundreds packed community meetings on both sides of the bay. Of 211 who commented out loud or in writing, only nine were against saving the bridge.

Miracle of miracles, the Hillsborough Commission, in the same squeeze-every-penny mode as everyone else, voted 5-2 to go after the stimulus money. But their Pinellas counterparts declined, worried it might hinder other local requests, a theory some dismiss.

Supporters said that vote all but killed the bridge, since Hillsborough won't likely proceed without Pinellas. Still, you hear hope in talk of municipal bonds and business plans, fundraising bike rides and county-to-county runs, user fees and better planned donation stations. The oversight committee has 90 days to come up with options.

If you are lucky enough to have spent time out there, boats below, sky above, downtowns on either side, you already know. This is a place for hard core runners and serious cyclists, for kids on training wheels behind parents, for fishermen, for packs of walkers doing as much socializing as walking — pretty much anyone who gets that being outside is part of why we like it here.

Ben Ritter, a paraplegic and the government relations director for the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, liked to ride his three-wheeled cycle across. For him, the Pinellas Trail and Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard don't hold a candle to the bridge.

"It's a bay area treasure," he says, "A national treasure."

Absolutely, we should applaud fiscal frugality. But even in this economy, it's worth finding creative solutions for keeping the good stuff from disappearing forever.

End of the Friendship Trail? Maybe not 08/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 5:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. State rolls out food assistance program for residents affected by Hurricane Irma


    Help is on the way for Florida residents struggling to put food on the table after Hurricane Irma.

    The Salvation Army Mobile Food Pantry hlped out with free food in Largo after Hurricane Irma. Now, the federal government is expanding access to food for people affected by the storm. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  2. Kriseman proclaims Buy Local week in St. Pete to quicken storm recovery


    Mayor Rick Kriseman has proclaimed next week to be "'Burg Buy Local Week" in an appeal to residents to help small businesses struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman wants St. Pete residents to help small businesses recover from Hurricane Irma
  3. Only one Hernando County school needs schedule adjustment after Irma


    Hernando County public school students missed seven days of classes because of Hurricane Irma.

    Challenger K-8 School served as a Hernando County shelter during Hurricane Irma. Students returned to classes Monday, and won't need to make up any missed time.
  4. Editorial: Ready to put Irma behind? Maybe it's time to get ready, instead


    One can only marvel now, looking back at the radar image of Hurricane Irma whirling and jerking north between Tampa and Orlando and leaving two of Florida's major population centers with only scattered damage from its high winds.

    A hand-painted sign signals a West Tampa homeowner's resolve as Hurricane Irma approached the Tampa Bay Area on Sept. 10. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times]
  5. Investigation launched into HHS Secretary Tom Price's travel on charter jets


    Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will face an inspector general's investigation into his reported use of chartered jets for at least two dozen flights in recent months at taxpayer expense.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will face an inspector general's investigation into his reported use of chartered jets for at least two dozen flights in recent months at taxpayer expense. A spokeswoman for HHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson told The Washington Post on Friday that the agency will request records of Price's travel and review the justification made by Price and his staff for the trips, which reportedly cost taxpayers a combined $300,000. [Associated Press]