TAMPA — Ever since the crumbling Friendship Trail Bridge closed, bicyclists have had no way to pedal across Tampa Bay. Now transportation officials intend to change that by putting an 8-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail along the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
The 12-foot-wide trail will eventually hook up to the extended bicycle trail networks that already exist on both sides of the bay. Federal funding will pay for the $20 million job.
The Florida Department of Transportation is looking for feedback on the project at public hearings, including one in Tampa on Tuesday.
"This is a regional link between the trail systems on the Pinellas and Hillsborough sides," said DOT project manager Robin Rhinesmith. "Bicycle and pedestrian groups in both counties have been telling us this is something they need and want, especially since the Friendship Trail closed down."
The Friendship Trail Bridge, which was a bicycle and pedestrian link between Tampa and St. Petersburg using the old Gandy Bridge, closed in 2008. Engineers found that it was in danger of collapsing into Tampa Bay. They figured that even a temporary repair could cost up to $50 million.
The new Courtney Campbell trail will run along the south side of the parkway from Bayshore Boulevard in east Clearwater to Ben T. Davis Beach at the Tampa end of the causeway.
On the Pinellas side of the bay, it could eventually connect with Clearwater's Ream Wilson Trail, Rhinesmith said. That would connect it to the Pinellas Trail and the Progress Energy Trail.
In Hillsborough, it will link to the West Tampa Greenway, which will eventually connect via on-street bike lanes to the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, which hooks up with the Suncoast Parkway Trail to Pasco and Hernando counties.
The DOT plans to build the Courtney Campbell trail in three phases, beginning next year and finishing by 2016.
Most of the trail will simply be paved on the existing fill that was used to build the causeway. The trail is to sit between the road's guardrail and the causeway's seawall. A small maintenance road that runs along stretches of the parkway will be relocated so that it runs between the parkway and the trail, officials said.
Also, new bridges will be needed at two spots. Rhinesmith said the Courtney Campbell's existing bridges for motor vehicles aren't wide enough to add a trail. Officials plan to build a 500-foot bridge and a 3,500-foot bridge for the trail.
The Courtney Campbell trail was only a dream until the DOT secured $20 million in federal tax money to do the work, Rhinesmith said.
"This trail has been in the plans," she said. "It's been out there waiting for funding."