PALM RIVER — A year and a half after the Maydell Drive Bridge was closed as unsound, the people who relied on it still are taking detours.
That's not likely to change for at least a couple more years.
The 616-foot long bridge carried traffic over the Tampa Bypass Canal and needs to be replaced entirely, Hillsborough County officials have learned. That will take until 2020 at the earliest.
"Following closure of the bridge the county conducted an engineering analysis to determine if the bridge could be repaired and reopened," said Jim Hudock, technical services director with the public works department. He said it "resulted in the conclusion that complete replacement of the bridge was required."
Hillsborough County closed the bridge in December 2015 after an independent engineering study found it was structurally unsound.
The 344-page report by HDR Engineering Inc. recommended on Dec. 17, 2015, that the structure — then 47 years old — be "closed to traffic immediately" because its underwater pilings could no longer support the weight of the span let alone a daily load of traffic. About 2,700 vehicles used the bridge every day.
Four days after the report, the county announced it was closing the bridge.
The Maydell Drive Bridge crosses the Tampa Bypass Canal just south of the Selmon Expressway and connects the Palm River community to State Road 60. Without it, cars have been detoured to U.S. 41 and 78th Street.
Those are much busier thoroughfares than the Maydell Drive, a two-lane road, and its closure has added to growing congestion in the Palm River area.
It will cost $6 million for Hillsborough County to replace the bridge. The project was included in the county's 2017 budget.
But it will take several more years for the bridge to open because of federal hurdles. The county first needs environmental approval from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as the go-ahead from the U.S. Coast Guard "due to the navigable waters status of Palm River," Hudock said.
Construction is expected to begin in February 2019 and will take one year.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, who represents Palm River, said he's concerned the money set aside for the project could dry up before then.
While commissioners recently designated $800 million for transportation projects over the next decade, the county could lose $25 million a year if voters approve a homestead exemption next year. State lawmakers added the additional $25,000 exemption on property taxes to the 2018 ballot.
"We're in deep trouble if that passes," Miller said. "That bridge won't be looked at in 2019 if that passes."
Commissioner Sandy Murman likened the impact to the Maydell Drive situation to another lengthy bridge closure in her district, on Second Street in Ruskin.
First closed in 2014, the bridge, also about 50 years old, is causing traffic nightmares for locals with its closure. It will cost $1.5 million to replace the Second Street Bridge and construction will begin in 2019.
Murman said she has been assured that all other bridges in the county have been inspected and these are the only two in such poor condition.
"This is a situation where we haven't had the money to do it," Murman said. "It's very unfortunate."
Contact Steve Contorno at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.