The Belleair Beach Causeway was closed to vehicles Saturday at 7 p.m. and will reopen at 7 this evening while workers prepare for the shifting of traffic to the north side of the relief bridge. It seemed like a good time to catch up with Tony Horrnik, Pinellas County's senior engineer for the project. Along with the Belleair Beach Causeway, Horrnik, 49, has worked on more than 50 bridges, including serving as principal designer of the Bunce's Pass Bridge on Tierra Verde. The father of two received his degree in engineering from the University of South Florida, graduating magna cum laude.
1How do you make the decision on when to close a bridge? We know there will always be traffic, so we have to consider what is less inconvenient. During the week, more people go to work, and we take that into consideration, along with information from emergency service organizations. We consider the heavy beachgoing times as well, although I can't promise you there won't be a time during a busy season that we won't need to close it.
2When did you know you wanted to build bridges? I'm from Cuba, and over there we have a big river, the Almendares. Instead of a bridge, we have a tunnel going under it. I was about 10 years old, and I remember going through that tunnel and how it struck me.
3When you're out at one of your sites, when the bridge is closed, what do you tell people who are frustrated that they can't get across? We're really, really concerned about citizens' safety. We ask people to sit back and think about why it's important to close a bridge, even if it is inconvenient. But, I have to say, people are being patient.
4Out of all the bridges you've worked on, do you have a favorite? The Belleair Causeway is my favorite because of the challenges. Every site is different, and conditions vary. This project is not easy, but when we're done, it's going to be very elegant. We are using a foundation that is not typical, with three different types of beam configurations.
5Since the new bridge will have no bridge tender, and it won't open the old-fashioned way, what is the highest a sailboat mast can be to go under? For navigational clearance, a mast can be 74 feet and 11 inches high.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.