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Meet the people protecting the Howard Frankland Bridge from storms

Inside the $866 million construction site’s efforts to withstand lashing rain and howling wind.
 
Keith Anderson, left, project superintendent with Archer Western and Taylor Brothers, speaks with Mark Monreal, project executive at The Walsh Group - Walsh Construction & Archer Western, on-site as construction continues on the new Howard Frankland Bridge.
Keith Anderson, left, project superintendent with Archer Western and Taylor Brothers, speaks with Mark Monreal, project executive at The Walsh Group - Walsh Construction & Archer Western, on-site as construction continues on the new Howard Frankland Bridge. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 2, 2023|Updated May 2, 2023

OLD TAMPA BAY — Perhaps you, too, check the weather religiously every morning. Perhaps you wonder if you’ll need a jacket, sunhat or umbrella.

Keith Anderson partakes in this daily ritual, but he checks wondering if he’ll need to pause the construction of one of the Florida Department of Transportation’s biggest projects in a generation.

A team of more than 275 people, currently equipped with 27 cranes and 80 barges, have worked on the new span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, linking Tampa’s Westshore district and Pinellas’ Gateway, since construction began in 2020. But when a storm promises to thwack the $866.3 million project, work must cease and the machinery must be moved away so as not to pummel the existing structure.

“It’s all about planning the work and working the plan,” Anderson said amid the maze of concrete piles Monday morning, under blue skies that revealed no trace of the lashing rain and howling winds that had whipped across the region late last week.

A project superintendent, Anderson said he learned how to handle complex problems and heavy machinery while driving tanks in the U.S. Army, which he joined a week after graduating high school.

Construction continues on the new Howard Frankland Bridge on Monday.
Construction continues on the new Howard Frankland Bridge on Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Early last week, Anderson and colleagues were eyeing the predictions of harsh weather from the west.

By Friday, construction had wound down as the team prepared for a line of storms cutting toward Florida’s Gulf Coast. All barges and cranes were bundled together, secured with vertical steel shafts and 2.5-inch rope an estimated 500 feet from the main construction site.

During Hurricane Ian, the cranes and barges were fastened together to make 22 acres of floating machinery away from the bridge, said project executive Mark Monreal. It was assembled in two days and disassembled in three.

Late last week, the National Weather Service placed the region on tornado watch, and Saturday storms forced the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to close.

By Monday, Anderson was back on-site before the sun, turning on the lights at 5 a.m. More than half a dozen tugboats started soon after, beginning the process of inspecting and ferrying the machinery back to working position.

His favorite thing about working in construction is making something from nothing, the 59-year-old said. “You get to watch it blossom.”

Josh Reed, a 28-year-old foreman on the project who has construction in his blood and first sat in a crane at age 5, was among those on-site Monday morning to help the project get up and running once more.

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“We have people from all over the world gathered here to make the largest bridge in the state by square footage,” Reed said, adding he’s the only native English speaker on his crew. “That’s what makes something like this so special.”

Keith Anderson, left, project superintendent with Archer Western and Taylor Brothers, talks with Josh Reed, foreman with the same company, on-site as construction continues on the new Howard Frankland Bridge.
Keith Anderson, left, project superintendent with Archer Western and Taylor Brothers, talks with Josh Reed, foreman with the same company, on-site as construction continues on the new Howard Frankland Bridge. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The Howard Frankland is easily the most traveled of the three bay crossings connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, handling some 174,000 car trips per day. The span under construction will become the new southbound bridge, with four general-use lanes, four express toll lanes (two in each direction) and a 12-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail. Currently, the Howard Frankland is composed of two spans: One has four southbound lanes, the other four northbound lanes. None are tolled.

About 85% of all piling for the new bridge foundations has been driven into the bay’s bedrock, which, notoriously uneven, led a resident engineer to liken the project to building atop a mountain range, underwater. Two-thirds of bridge footings and columns have been completed. The route is expected to be open for traffic by early 2025, according to a Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson.

Preparing for the worst, Monreal was relieved to find no damage to the site during Hurricane Ian.

“Hopefully,” he said, “we’ll have another couple of fortunate years.”

The view looking northeast from St. Petersburg toward Tampa as construction continues on the bridge.
The view looking northeast from St. Petersburg toward Tampa as construction continues on the bridge. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]