ST. PETERSBURG — Those traversing the 40th Avenue Bridge, the main span connecting Shore Acres and Venetian Isles with the Old Northeast and Northeast Park neighborhoods, can expect to see orange cones barricading the center of the bridge for the foreseeable future.
The bridge, closed in August for emergency repairs after inspectors found its steel infrastructure corroded, will need to be replaced, said Brejesh Prayman, director of Engineering and Capital Improvement Projects for the city. It could be years before construction begins on a new bridge due to federal and state regulations.
"There is no foot dragging," St. Petersburg Public Works Communication Manager Bill Logan said. "We’re doing as much as we possibly can."
The decision to close the bridge was made after city officials were conducting routine inspections before starting minor repairs to the bridge. The bridge had received regular biannual inspections from the Florida Department of Transportation and received sufficiency ratings over 70 percent in 2011, 2013 and 2015. FDOT had just completed an inspection before the city officials detected the corrosion, but had yet to release the report, Prayman said. FDOT was notified and confirmed the damage, he said. The FDOT reports are not public record due to a clause in state law that deems bridges as part of Homeland security.
The outer portions of the bridge, built in 1991, were constructed with more advanced technology, Prayman said, and are structurally sound and safe to drive on while the city determines a construction plan.
The city is working with FDOT to identify funding sources for construction, but will pay for beginning the process to select design consultants.
The bridge will be up for consideration to be added FDOT’s five-year fiscal plan in 2018. A project can be bumped up if it’s deemed critical, which shorter term repairs could push back.
"It’s almost a Catch 22," Logan said.
Some constituents, however, are hopeful that the new bridge could improve old grievances with the bridge.
Kai Cox, a Shore Acres resident who created a petition to raise the height of the bridge that received almost 1,200 signatures, said more people have expressed support for the cause after hearing the bridge will be replaced.
"At the time (the old bridge was constructed), boats were smaller," Cox said. "If that happens the new bridge will have additional damage to it. So why do that to the bridge? ... It’s a great opportunity to build a bridge for the modern standards."
Prayman said increasing the height is a consideration, but several factors have to be taken into account in the design, including what the maximum vertical curve may be.
And increasing the height, public works administrator Claude Tankersley said, could land the city in eminent domain issues — extending the bridge right in front of or possibly into houses currently adjacent to the bridge.
"Raising the bridge has consequences," he said. "We have to consider those consequences. ... There are residences at the foot of the bridge. In order to raise the bridge, somebody might have to lose their home. So we have to take that into consideration and be fair to those people."
The deadline for design consultants to apply is Dec. 14, and the city is expected to make a selection by January.
"It’s a good-sized bridge, so you’ll get medium to large size firms," Prayman said. "I’d imagine a lot would like to have this bridge on their resume."
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.