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Public attends hearing on Beckett Bridge
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Photo courtesy of Pinellas County DEI
More than 7,000 vehicles a day cross Beckett Bridge in Tarpon Springs. The aging bridge, built in 1924, is the subject of recent public hearings to decide whether it should be removed, rehabilitated or replaced.
TARPON SPRINGS – About 100 people turned out to the Tarpon Springs Yacht Club on Feb. 26 for a public hearing on the Beckett Bridge construction.

Beckett Bridge, originally constructed as a wooden bridge in 1924 and repaired in 1956, 1979, 1998 and 2011, crosses Minetta and Whitcomb Bayous west of Alternate U.S. Route 19.

But despite all the repairs, Beckett Bridge is considered functionally obsolete because of its narrow width; the sidewalks are only about two feet wide and there are no shoulders or bicycle lanes. The bridge also does not comply with current weight standards, meaning that certain vehicles, including school buses, fire trucks and ambulances, are unable to cross safely.

In October, Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation to replace the bridge, as opposed to other options including widening the bridge or continuing to make repairs on the existing bridge. The new movable bridge, featuring 11-foot travel lanes, 5.5-foot shoulders and two 6-foot sidewalks, is estimated to cost $15.8 million, although costs will be recalculated before final approval of the project.

According to a video shown at the public hearing, the 90-year-old bridge was originally designed to last 50 years. Recently, the Florida Department of Transportation gave it a sufficiency rating of 44.9 on a scale of 1 to 100; unstable soil conditions partly due to sinkholes have resulted in weight limits and the bridge has become functionally obsolete.

Over a four-year period from 2009 to 2012, the bridge opened just 62 times: 10 times in 2009, 20 times in 2010, 18 times in 2011 and 14 times in 2012.

But a fixed bridge alternative has not been recommended, in part due to a survey of Whitcomb Bayou Waterfront Property owners; of 99 responses, nine residents said they had boats that required a bridge opening based on height, including four sailboats that required more than 27 feet of clearance. The suggested movable bridge would have a 7.8-foot vertical and 25-foot horizontal clearance without opening the bridge to allow taller boats to pass.

According to the Project Development and Environment study, a new movable bridge would pose minimal environmental, social and physical impacts. Water quality will continue to comply with Southwest Florida Water Management District standards, the city will coordinate with state and federal agencies to minimize impact on wildlife habitats during construction and noise will not exceed Florida Highway Administration noise abatement criteria.

Wendy Crosato said that she’s most excited to be able to safely ride her bike over the bridge without worrying about cars not being able to see her.

“I don’t want to see one life lost,” she said.

Stephen Katsarelis questioned whether anything would be done to mitigate speed once the construction is complete.

“When you build a bridge bigger and wider,” he said, “people are going to drive faster.”

Despite the County Commissions recommendation for a new movable bridge, other options for Beckett Bridge are still being considered:

• Continue to fix the bridge as needed; no total cost

• Fix the bridge as needed and demolish when unable to be fixed; $900,000 cost for demolition

• Complete rehabilitation while maintaining original bridge; $9.5 million cost and 12-month construction time

• New fixed bridge; $11 million cost and 24-month construction time

On April 15, the Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to hear a presentation on the bridge and decide whether to confirm their approval of the recommended alternative and move forward with the plan.

After that meeting, but before obtaining approval from the Federal Highway Administration, the city of Tarpon Springs will work with the State Historic Preservation Officer, the United States Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation and Pinellas County to determine options to offset the removal of the existing bridge from eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Mitigation would include documenting the bridge with photographs and other information for the Historic American Engineering Record; other options include creating a monument or educational kiosk in a public space or incorporating a portion of the existing bridge into the new bridge.

If the movable bridge plan is approved and funding is secured, construction is estimated to take about two years, including a year of traffic detours around the bridge.

For more information, visit www.p­inell­ascou­nty.o­rg/be­ckett­bridg­e. A full transcript of the public hearing is also available at the Pinellas County Public Works building, 14 S. Ft. Harrison, Clearwater 33756, upon request.

Proposed project schedule

• April 15, 6 p.m. – Board of County Commissioners Meeting

• March - July – Finalize Project Documents

• September-October – Obtain Federal Highway Administration Approval

• Early 2015 – Begin Design

• 2019 – Begin Construction, contingent on funding ability
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