The Doc last did an update on plans to replace the 50-year-old Pinellas Bayway bridge more than a year ago, so here's a quick refresher: The planned replacement was announced by the state in 2001. At the time, plans to build a higher, 65-foot fixed-span bridge seemed all-systems-go, and work was scheduled to begin in 2003. But funding shortfalls arose, and the project has been on hold (on and off) ever since.
Last year we reported that the state Department of Transportation was working with the Bayway Bridges Task Force, a committee of the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, to develop a funding plan to replace the Pinellas Bayway and the Tierra Verde bridges within five years.
The task force includes elected officials from Pinellas County, St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg. The DOT does not have the money to replace the two bridges. There was talk last year about increasing the bridge tolls, which have not changed in 23 years, a suggestion that generated an uproar among folks who do not want to see rates increase.
Reader Alfred T. May asked recently about the latest: "Dear Dr. Delay: What is the status of the high-span bridge between the Pinellas Bayway and St. Pete Beach? … This would seem like an ideal project for some of the government stimulus money because it's probably 'shovel ready' and is an important hurricane evacuation route."
The bottom line, sorry to say, is that there isn't much to report.
Kris Carson of the state DOT told us the department continues to work with Pinellas County and the MPO to determine where the money will come from.
The state DOT is required by law to identify the funding source before a project can be added to the five-year work program.
Carson added that revenue from Pinellas Bayway tolls won't make a dent and cannot be increased without action on the part of the Legislature. In the meantime, the bridge continues to age. Because it is hurricane season, keep that in mind when formulating your evacuation plans.
Bryan Dairy Road exit
New ramp opening looks good for spring
Lots of readers are wondering what's up with the new Bryan Dairy Road westbound exit sign on northbound Interstate 275. Could it be that the ramp is about to open?
One reader wrote: "Don't get too excited: The 'exit' ramp takes you down to Roosevelt, then directs you to a left turn at that first light and down 28th Street to Bryan Dairy. The overall ramp does appear close to opening, which I suspect will happen well before the entire connector project is completed. What's the latest?"
The DOT told us work is progressing fast and furious, but the scheduled completion date and opening of the ramp remains best estimated at next spring. And the new northbound I-275 ramp that takes traffic westbound to County Road 296, also known as 118th Avenue/Bryan Dairy Road, is indeed projected to open about a month before the completion of the entire project.
"Currently, the project is estimated to finish in spring 2011. However, the contractor is considerably ahead of schedule … and is working hard to try and finish even earlier than this spring," John McShaffrey of the DOT said.
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