BELLEAIR BEACH — For pizza shop owner Milen Kolev, Friday morning's Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge opening is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, the opening means the end of detours for the owner's pizza drivers, who at times drove an extra 6 miles for deliveries. On the other hand, it means the impending end of the Westshore Pizza's lunchtime construction-worker rush.
But he knows the project isn't over yet. From painting and stone hauling to general clean-up work, construction work will continue.
Construction of the new Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge reached a milestone Friday morning as two-way traffic opened for the first time on the new main span.
The entire bridge was temporarily closed Thursday night to prepare the span for early-morning commuter traffic.
Construction on the high span bridge began in March 2007 and has progressed ahead of schedule and largely without incident. The only exception was in February when a room-sized chunk of concrete fell off the underside of the bridge.
Repairs to that "spall" were completed this week after large concrete blocks were placed on the bridge deck to test its strength.
The concrete fell from the bridge when workers were stretching reinforcing cables within the bridge structure, but did not affect the structural integrity of the bridge, according to county officials.
The $72.3 million bridge project is now 80 percent finished and is expected to be completed by late November, well ahead of the originally scheduled completion date of spring 2010.
The new 75-foot-high bridge replaces a 50-year-old drawbridge and is expected to last about 75 years. Bridge features include 12?foot auto travel lanes, 8-foot sidewalks on each side and 10-foot-wide shoulders that include 5-foot bicycle lanes.
Patty Brumback recently moved into her home at 125 Ninth St. in Belleair Beach. Her community overlooks the new bridge, and she's noticed some people coming to a nearby park to view the structure. "There will be an initial interest," she said. "But that will die off."
The project used an unusual construction method called "incremental launching," in which the main sections of the bridge were constructed off site and then lifted and pushed into place using large cranes and 33,000 pounds per square inch of hydraulic pressure.
The only other U.S. bridge built using this construction method spans the Iowa River. It was built in the mid 1990s and, at the time, was the longest free-cantilever bridge in the country.
Tasks remaining to be done include finishing a smaller "relief bridge" west of the main span, removal of the older bridge structures, construction of a new boat ramp park, as well as causeway roadwork connecting the main span to the mainland in Belleair Bluffs on the east side of the bridge and to Belleair Beach to the west.
The project includes new storm drains, retaining walls, sidewalks, curbs and gutters. A newly constructed tidal wetland on the southern shore of the causeway will include more than 2 acres of sea grass beds.
Bridge traffic may be closed periodically until construction is complete, county officials said.