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Sand Key upset by bridge closing

Five months is too long, a year is forever, say some Sand Key residents.

They say they're not happy with the prospects of an extended closing of the aging Clearwater Pass Bridge during construction of a new span.

Residents reiterated at a meeting Tuesday concerns that already have been expressed by business leaders on Sand Key and Clearwater Beach.

A prolonged closing would hurt tourism and, as a result, hurt businesses, residents said. It also means that for an extended period Sand Key residents would have to use the Belleair Beach Causeway and drive through Largo to get to other parts of Clearwater.

The difference between closing the 30-year-old bridge for five months or a year is several million dollars, officials have said. City commissioners have said they will make a decision on whether to go with the more expensive option within about three months.

If the bridge is closed for a year, the city would not have to buy property near the north side of the bridge to reroute the approach, officials have said. To shorten the closing to five months, the city would have to buy the property, which could cost as much as $4-million.

Several residents told officials at a meeting of the Sand Key Civic Association that instead of buying more land for $4-million the city should spend the money on overtime to speed up construction.

"You can do the job and close the bridge for just 30 days," said retired Army Col. Lloyd J. Brown, who has lived on Sand Key for nine years. "Do the work 24 hours a day. You can find the money in the city because, damn it, we pay for it."

City Manager Michael Wright told residents that a 24-hour schedule is possible, but officials with the federal government, which is paying for the new bridge, would have to agree to the plan.

Al Lijewski, president of the Sand Key Civic Association, warned members that residents in other parts of the city might not want the city to spend tax dollars on just speeding up the project.

"The commissioners are going to feel most of the political pressure from the mainland," Lijewski said. "If we are going to get sympathy from the mainland, we cannot say we're going to be inconvenienced when we go shopping or to play golf. The argument that has to be made has to be an economic one."

As it stands now, the bridge must be closed for five months after the boating channel is realigned, officials have said. A portion of the bridge must be dismantled before the new bridge is completed to clear a path for boat traffic on the realigned channel. The channel is to be shifted south, toward the center of Clearwater Pass.

The city's financial responsibility on the project includes the land, if necessary, and the engineering costs, officials have said. The state and federal governments are paying for the new $17.5-million bridge. Construction is scheduled to start in January 1994.