Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: A dynamite plan for the Friendship Trail Bridge

What to do about the Friendship Trail Bridge? Please forgive this highly nuanced and perhaps overly technical architectural terminology, but how about blowing it up?

Or put another way, the Friendship Trail Bridge spanning Tampa Bay between Tampa and St. Petersburg has become essentially the roadkill of cement.

Friendship? What Friendship? There hasn't been any semblance of friendship, fellowship, not even some recreational flirting on the span for years. It is nothing more than a reef-in-waiting. Let's get on with it. Kaboom!

Yet the only reason this eyesore has yet to go the way of aquatic urban renewal is because a handful of tree-hugging preservationists have whined loudly enough and long enough for Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to keep the cockamamie expanse from being mercifully razed.

Why the movement to keep a completely and utterly useless piece of unused road around as a cobweb refuge is a mystery.

It's not the least bit historic. Washington never slept there. Patton never traversed it on the way to save the troops at Bastonge. Oh, okay, perhaps a completely loaded Jack Kerouac might have driven across thinking he was on the way to San Francisco. Who knows?

But the harsh reality is the old Gandy Bridge, or whatever kumbaya name you want to give it now, has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1997 and shut off to pedestrians, cyclists and fishermen for the past four years.

And why is that? Because the Friendship Trail Bridge is crumbling faster than the Bucs' current football season. It has been closed, the wailing protests of the Birkenstock crowd notwithstanding, because vast chucks of concrete are peeling off into the waters below and thus it has been deemed unsafe at any screed.

That probably explains why Pinellas County made the offer to transfer its half of the bridge to Hillsborough County. Pinellas also has offered to pay $515,000, on top of $2 million it has already spent on the white elephant of expanses, simply to get it off its books.

After all, the Spendthrift Trail Bridge has become the public works equivalent of the slovenly brother-in-law who comes for a visit, drinks all your liquor, eats all your food and refuses to leave.

Refurbishing the span, depending on how much work needs to be done and how many bells and whistles are involved, is estimated to cost anywhere from $10 million or so to perhaps $15 million.

Or it could be simply euthanized for about $5.2 million.

More to the point, a stupid amount of money could well restore the Bridge to Who Cares? for people to walk from end to the other. What fun.

The greater Tampa Bay area is blessed with bike trails, parks and other assorted recreational venues. Kowtowing to a small group of Gandyites to save what is nothing more than a pile of wheezing rebar is simply insane.

For years, Hillsborough County officials patiently have given the Friendship Trail Bridge cabal ample opportunity to design a realistic and financially responsible plan to save the structure. It's all been for naught. This has been like dedicating half a decade to come up with a plan to preserve a bucket of Gasparilla beads.

They can't claim they haven't been given enough time. They can't claim they haven't been listened to. They can't claim they have been merely humored.

Enough is enough. Anybody have a match to light the fuse?

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