TAMPA — Just when it seemed officials had run out of downtown Tampa bridges to fix, here comes another repair project.
The Laurel Street bridge, a hulking red and gray span just south of Interstate 275 and north of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is next up on the city's bridge repair list.
Work on the 85-year-old drawbridge hasn't been scheduled yet, but officials expect it to start late this year, causing a closure for three months early next year.
The city has already rehabilitated the Cass and Platt street bridges.
On Tuesday, the county will close the Columbus Drive bridge for three months to replace electrical components and make other repairs.
Closure of the Columbus bridge was initially set for Feb. 7, but the work was delayed two weeks to allow contractors time to order parts, said Hillsborough County Public Works spokesman Steve Valdez.
The city and county have been on a bridge-mending tear ever since state inspectors a few years ago deemed the aging downtown spans structurally deficient.
The Cass and Platt bridges required time-consuming and costly repairs to their mechanical and electrical systems, which is also anticipated with the Columbus Drive bridge. Together, work on those bridges will top out at more than $23 million. The $2.1 million Laurel Street bridge project is expected to be a comparatively simple affair.
Officials don't expect the work to involve electrical components or the massive gears that flank the bridge's north and south sides. Instead, most of the focus will be on the cracked and rusted steel girders.
"Most of the work will focus on the substructure," said Tampa's transportation manager, Jean Duncan. "Painting, filling cracks, replacing the handrail."
The bridge, with its pilings covered by graffiti from college rowers, was last fixed in 1992 when its electrical system and concrete footings were repaired. It received a bigger overhaul in 1969.
The bridge takes its name from nearby Laurel Street, but was originally named for Fortune Taylor, a former slave who received title to 33 acres on the east side of the Hillsborough River in 1875.
It gets about 2,600 vehicle crossings daily, far fewer than the larger bridges downstream.
Nonetheless, the bridge links the downtown to West Tampa and a cluster of homes and schools nestled on the west side of the river, including Tampa Presbyterian Village, Blake High School and Tampa Preparatory School.
Also, the span's 10-foot walkways make it popular with pedestrians and anglers.
"I was born here and this is one of the quickest ways to get to West Tampa," said Rubin Harris, 66, of Temple Terrace, who was fishing from the bridge recently. "I used to work at a hotel downtown and walked across this bridge every day."
Now, he said, he visits twice monthly to try his luck reeling in the mullet, catfish or sheepshead that roam the dark, languid waters under the span.
"I guess I'll have to find another spot, maybe behind the school," he said, referring to Blake High School.
Chris Nagel, 29, a construction worker from West Tampa, said closing the bridge would mean having to walk an extra 15 to 20 minutes to the Cass Street bridge and then to the Marion Transit Center, where he catches a bus to work.
"I guess I'll have to get up earlier and get home later," he said.
For David Bordes, a caseworker at the Florida Department of Children and Families, the closure will mean having to find another place to unwind.
"After a long day of dealing with families, the stress of that, it's nice to come here and fish," said Bordes, who with his friend, Evence Alce, had already nabbed a couple of sheepshead before the sun set. "This is a treat. This is nice."
The entire project is expected to last 200 days, Duncan said. The 90-day closure will occur sometime in the middle of the project.