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  1. News

Treasure Island, St. Petersburg, agree on causeway plan

Treasure Island's agreement with St. Petersburg doesn't address how the beach city will pay for ongoing bridge maintenance. TIMES FILES

TREASURE ISLAND — The City Commission is expected to approve an agreement with the city of St. Petersburg on Tuesday to reconstruct the East Causeway roadway, including a new bike trail, beginning next year.

Informal approval of the agreement was given during a workshop session last week.

The causeway is owned by Treasure Island but is within St. Petersburg city limits. It extends from Sunset Drive in St. Petersburg to the base of the bascule bridge connecting Treasure Island to the mainland.

The nearly $2 million project will be managed and built by St. Petersburg, which has already approved the agreement, according to city officials.

Construction is scheduled to begin in August 2019 and be finished by May 2020. Design plans for the project are more than half completed.

The project does not address whether Treasure Island will reinstitute a toll for vehicles crossing the bridge, nor does it address how the city's ongoing costs for maintaining that bridge will be financed.

Previously, city officials indicated that without a toll, the city would have to raise property taxes to cover millions of dollars in future maintenance costs.

A previously existing toll was removed after the city received a $50 million federal grant in 2004 to rebuild an aging bridge.

In exchange for that grant the city entered an informal agreement with the late U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, then chairman of the House appropriations committee, to remove the bridge toll.

In 2015, the City Commission began investigating whether that agreement with Young was still binding.

"We are still in the research stage and so far have conflicting opinions. It will be months if not longer before we will be ready to consider a number of options," City Manager Garry Brumback said Tuesday.

At one point, city officials discussed deeding the causeway approach to the bridge to St. Petersburg in exchange for them taking over its maintenance costs. That city declined the offer.

Now, although St. Petersburg will design, manage and perform the reconstruction of Causeway Boulevard, once it is completed, that city will be responsible only for ongoing maintenance of the bicycle trail portion of the project.

Commissioner Ralph Kennedy said he prefers St. Petersburg contributes to the causeway maintenance, but added, "If we retain ownership of causeway, it's a win-win for us."

Commissioner Heidi Horak described the agreement with St. Petersburg as "an opportunity to normalize our relationship."

The two cities were allocated $1.2 million in the 2016 state budget and must commit to scheduling the project by the end of May to receive the funds.

To accomplish this, the agreement between the city and St. Petersburg must be followed with a second agreement with the state Department of Transportation to allow the funds to be included in the state's 2018 budget.

Meanwhile, Treasure Island is hoping to win a $550,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to cover any funding shortfalls.

The pending grant has received a "preliminary high ranking" from Swiftmud, according to Stacy Boyles, the city's assistant director of public works.

If approved, it would be available to the city by October and would require the city to contribute $275,000 in matching funds. The city is also seeking a grant from the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund to cover about $75,000 of those matching funds.

Under the agreement, Treasure Island must approve the design and any project change order over $10,000.

Also, Treasure Island is responsible to the first $60,000 in any cost overruns above the $1.2 million grant, with the two cities splitting any additional extra costs.

The project design calls for the present roadway to be shifted to the south to allowed shared use of the north side of the road as a bike trail.