The Friendship Trail Bridge was a pioneering experience for those who wanted to walk, run or cycle between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. But the window for preserving the trail is closing fast, and the attention should shift to ensuring that the new pedestrian span along the Courtney Campbell Causeway is a vibrant alternative.
Built with nearly $15 million in federal money, the four-mile, 16-foot wide pedestrian pathway along the causeway will provide a safe, scenic backdrop for walkers, runners and cyclists to enjoy the expanse across Upper Tampa Bay. It is destined to become a popular spot; after a span of the old Gandy Bridge was remade into the Friendship Trail, it drew hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
But the Friendship Trail was closed in 2008 because of unsafe conditions. Hillsborough and Pinellas have made clear they are not interested in spending more on repairs. And despite the work of a dedicated group of activists, no private donor has been found to take on the costly job of rehabilitating the bridge. Friendship Trail advocates have until next month to put a viable plan together, or Hillsborough will move to demolish the old bridge.
The Courtney Campbell span could fill the void as the only motor-less path over Tampa Bay. The state Department of Transportation should enforce a fishing ban to maintain a safe environment for foot traffic on the bridge. While the Friendship Trail's future is bleak, there is no denying the value in linking the two counties with the area's greatest natural asset. It might simply be time to do that to the north.