CLEARWATER — Work has begun on one of Tampa Bay's most scenic causeways, a $23 million construction project that will repave and add trails to the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
This week, survey crews began preparing 5 miles of the causeway for resurfacing, part of a makeover to be finished in time for August's Republican National Convention.
But the biggest change — an 8-mile trail stretching along the causeway's southern shore — still remains in planning. The trail's Hillsborough half could go under construction later this year, with the Pinellas half beginning in late 2013.
Funded by the state Department of Transportation, the nighttime construction work will go a long way toward smoothing out the bay's northernmost bridge linking Clearwater to Tampa.
Other parts of the job, like replacing guardrails and installing hurricane-resistant poles and traffic lights, will be finished by next summer.
For runners and cyclists, though, the most exciting addition remains the 12-foot-wide trail that will connect from Bayshore Boulevard at the Pinellas County line to Ben T. Davis Beach on the bridge's eastern end. It will run across two new bridges built along the causeway, tapping into a network of mainland trails spanning both sides of the bay.
The trail will cost $14.7 million, while the roadwork will cost $8.4 million.
Designated one of Florida's few scenic highways in 2005, the Courtney Campbell has long been a canvas for plans of outdoor paths. In 2006, the state paid $400,000 to study the idea of a quieter trail along the road, home to 50,000 vehicles a day.
But it wasn't until the 2008 closure of the Friendship Trail, the cross-bay link atop the old Gandy Bridge, that concepts for the causeway trail were "really pushed forward," said Bill Jonson, a Clearwater City Council member and chairman of the Courtney Campbell Scenic Highway Advisory Committee.
It will still take about five years for crews to finish the waterfront trail, the detailed blueprints of which have yet to be designed. But local supporters predict the trail will serve both as a tourist attraction and a "great community asset," said Bob Clifford, president of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Opened as a quarter-a-car toll bridge in the 1930s by former Texas cattleman Ben T. Davis, what was then the Davis Causeway was taken over by the federal government during World War II and transferred to the state.
The span was renamed in 1948 for Courtney W. Campbell, a former U.S. congressman and Florida road commissioner who helped propel the rundown road's repairs and beautification.
The name of the trail, however, is not yet a done deal, Jonson said. Some have suggested naming it after Campbell. Others have a different idea: calling it the Dolphin Trail.
Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 445-4170 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.