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No new bridge; Beckett to get fix

Beckett Bridge will be repaired rather than replaced, but sooner than later.

Because of the age of the bridge, Pinellas County will start repair work on the bridge earlier than expected, said Enrique Mazas, senior engineer.

"It's quite old and really needs a replacement," Mazas said.

Almost a year ago city commissioners rejected a county proposal to replace the bridge.

Since then, county officials have opted for a cheaper fix: repairs. And that will happen next year _ much sooner than a new bridge would have been built.

The county has begun to look for a consultant to design the bridge repairs. Officials expect to award that contract next month. Designing the bridge would take another four months. Construction would be expected to begin early next year, Mazas said.

Normally it would take a year to design the repairs to the bridge and another year to repair it, Mazas said. The county is rushing on Beckett Bridge because of its repeated problems.

"It's a headache," Mazas said. "You keep getting calls about the bridge being stuck, and you go and fix it and get called again."

Mazas said the bridge has caused occasional problems for local boaters and motorists. In May the bridge would not open for several days. County engineers have repaired some of the mechanical parts of the drawbridge, providing temporary relief.

"There is settlement, causing the structure to move and rub against the land," Mazas said. "It is on old, wooden pilings. And it's about 70 years old."

Construction would replace those wooden pilings with concrete and replace the drawbridge, Mazas said. The work would shut down the bridge and the road for about four months, he said.

Beckett Bridge was built in 1924 and made into a drawbridge in 1956. The county-owned bridge spans Whitcomb Bayou and connects Riverside Drive on the west and Spring Boulevard on the east. It is one of three major routes connecting east and west Tarpon Springs.

The bridge has carried controversy as well as cars. In 1990, the county determined that the bridge would have to be replaced. Officials were opting to do so with a fixed-span bridge.

The county also would have given the city money and responsibility for upkeep of a number of roads it currently maintains.

In Tarpon Springs, the county's decision sparked a debate.

On one side a group agreed that a fixed-span bridge would be cheaper to build and would bring more money into the city for road improvements.

On the other side was a group that believed that changing the bridge would infringe on their rights as home and boat owners and that building a bridge should have nothing to do with city roads.

Money, or rather the lack of it, was the deciding factor in repairing the bridge. The county expects to spend between $600,000 and $700,000 to repair Beckett Bridge. To build a replacement would have cost at least $2.5-million, said Keith Wicks, director of Pinellas County public works.

"Hopefully, with the repairs we have planned, we will get another 10 years of life from it," Wicks said. "We're not sure what will happen between now and then."

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