Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Decay closes treasured Friendship Trail Bridge to cyclists, walkers

The Friendship Trail Bridge was closed indefinitely Thursday, severing the only link between Tampa and St. Petersburg for pedestrians, cyclists and inline skaters.

The sudden decision came after inspectors on Tuesday determined the bridge is dangerously deteriorated. The steel tendons that underpin the span are corroding, breaking the concrete and dropping chunks into Tampa Bay. An engineering firm recommended it be closed immediately.

Engineers will detail the damage and put a price tag on repairs by the end of this month, but some fear the bridge used by almost 600,000 people annually is just too old to keep up.

"Everybody knew that this day was coming eventually," said Bob Gordon, public works director for Hillsborough County. "We didn't know it would be today."

Barricades went up at 5 p.m., just as the fit after-work crowd began to arrive. People were shocked to hear that their trip across the span might be their last.

"I was so dependent on this bridge for years and years," said Donna Carter, a marathon runner from St. Petersburg. "I'm going to have to come up with a different plan of attack."

"That's terrible," said Joel Gorman, 34, of Seminole Heights, who pedals the trail regularly. "It'll kill a lot of organized rides."

For cyclists, the bridge is the key connector between groups in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Both cities have been working to create a seamless route between the two downtowns, said Frank Miller, executive director of the Friendship Trail Corp.

But Miller, who led the movement to save the bridge from demolition more than a decade ago, hopes the trail will endure.

If the repair cost is manageable, he hopes the state of Florida, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties or citizen groups could step up with money.

"We would all hate to lose it," Miller said. "It's become everything that we wanted it to be."

The damage discovered this week put a halt to $4.2-million in planned repairs to bridge pilings. Engineers had recommended the work after an inspection in March, and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties were prepared to pay for it.

But in August, the state closed the eastern portions of the fishing piers by the Sunshine Skyway Bridge after discovering serious structural problems. State officials then recommended the counties take a closer look at the Friendship Trail Bridge, which is similar in age and structure.

That's what led to this week's report that the corrosion had worsened to the point where the bridge could be a hazard.

Pinellas County spokeswoman Meg Korakis said the problem is larger than the Friendship Trail. Many area bridges were built in the post-World War II population boom and are wearing out at the same time.

"The lifespan of a bridge is 50 years," she said. "It comes to a point, to maintain them it becomes expensive and not prudent."

This isn't the first time the bridge has come under threat.

Built for car traffic in 1956, it closed in 1997 with the opening of the current Gandy Bridge. The state Department of Transportation set aside nearly $7-million for its demolition.

Community activists and civic leaders rallied to keep the bridge open for fishing and recreation. They prevailed, and the money for demolition was put toward maintenance, installing the catwalks and lighting.

Now that money is mostly depleted. And Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman is saying, "I told you so."

Norman was a lone voice among elected officials who warned the bridge could become a money pit. Repairs would grow too costly and local government would ultimately be forced to foot the bill for demolition.

"I said if you take this on, it will become a black hole," Norman said. "I got painted as an 'I don't love the community' guy."

But advocates won't give up.

Jan Platt, a former Hillsborough County commissioner who serves on the Agency on Bay Management, said leaders should compare the cost of demolishing the structure with the price to fix it.

"We need to ask a lot of questions about the whole issue before a decision is made," Platt said. "It's become a basic part of our community. I think we need to find a way to make it work."

One eventual option could arise when the state decides to build a new eastbound span to replace the existing one, which is older than the westbound bridge. Pedestrians could use the old bridge.

Miller, the bridge advocate, described it as "a natural occurrence, when — not if — that eastbound bridge becomes too old for traffic.

"We used to joke about it, but now it's becoming more of a solution," Miller said.

Times staff writers Kim Wilmath and Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or

>>fast facts

Bridge closure

Pedestrians, cyclists and anglers will be allowed to use roughly 2,000 feet at both ends of the bridge, but the elevated middle portion will be off limits.

Boaters also will be banned from the area under the bridge that was closed, except for the channel.

Decay closes treasured Friendship Trail Bridge to cyclists, walkers 11/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 12:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility


    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia


    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber


    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant


    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]