CLEARWATER — A small pedestrian bridge the city neglected to take care of will cost taxpayers $150,000 to fix.
The City Council on Thursday is expected to sign a contract with M&J Construction of Tarpon Springs, which offered the lowest bid of the five marine painting contractors that sought to repair the Mandalay Channel pedestrian underpass.
City leaders first thought they would have to spend $500,000 replacing the little-known walkway that runs under the Mandalay Channel bridge, which is just east of the roundabout, and connects the north and south fishing piers.
"We have no choice; either we repair it or it falls into the water," council member Paul Gibson said. "I've been very clear about my disappointment over the lack of maintenance of this asset, and so I'm sure we've learned from this experience and it won't happen again."
Built in 1999 so that pedestrians didn't have to cross the west end of the Memorial Causeway, the bridge suffers from advanced corrosion. It was shut down in March 2007, but reopened the following May while a consultant determined whether the bridge needed a complete makeover.
Two consultants were paid a combined $2,800 last year to study the bridge and agreed that a new coat of corrosion-resistant paint would keep the bridge safe for another 14 to 18 years.
M&J will clean and sandblast the bridge and replace the existing coat while using a containment system so that paint chips and other materials don't fall into the water.
The bridge will close in a couple of weeks when the project starts, said Mike Quillen, Engineering Department director. It should take a little more than a month to finish.
Built with steel and concrete, the 85-foot-long underpass was developed in conjunction with the roundabout that opened in December 1999. It came with a warranty, but that covered only defects in the materials and the workmanship.
City leaders say roughly 10 percent of the underpass has spot rusting, most of it at the bottom where saltwater from a busy 2004 hurricane season submerged the bridge. The underpass is about 3 feet from the water at its lowest point.
Clearwater leaders say what should have been routine maintenance on the bridge "fell through the cracks," and the structure wasn't inspected until a year ago, when the corrosion was discovered. Since then, City Manager Bill Horne said, the city has taken inventory of its property and assigned each piece to a specific department for oversight. City leaders say the bridge was neglected because it was new and no particular department was asked to look after it.
The money for repairs will come from funds set aside for streets and sidewalks.
Once complete, the underpass will be maintained and inspected by the city's Engineering Department.