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County OKs plan for new Beckett Bridge
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Photo courtesy of URS CORPORATION
This photo shows the view of the existing Beckett Bridge looking from the dock southeast of the bridge.
Photo courtesy of URS CORPORATION
This photo shows the same view, looking from the dock southeast of the bridge, of what a new Beckett Bridge might look like. The design has not yet begun.
CLEARWATER – With little discussion April 15, Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved a consultant’s plan for replacement of Beckett Bridge over Whitcomb Bayou in Tarpon Springs.

The decision was a long time coming. Officials have been looking for a way to solve problems with the aging bridge since January 2011 – the start date of a PD&E study by the county and Florida Department of Transportation.

The study’s goal was to determine whether to remove, rehabilitate or replace the existing bridge built in 1924. The bridge is functionally obsolete. In recent years, it has become costly and disruptive to continue making repairs. Safety is an issue as the bridge structure and its machinery continue to deteriorate. It has no shoulders and only narrow sidewalks.

A number of alternatives were proposed in a workshop in January 2013, including do nothing, permanent removal of the bridge, rehabilitation of the existing bridge, replacement with a new movable bridge or replacement with a new mid-level fixed bridge.

The alterative commissioners approved, as the preferred plan, was the new movable bridge. Cost is $15.8 million, with $800,000 budgeted for aesthetic enhancements. Work on the design is scheduled to begin in 2015 with construction beginning in 2018. Plans call for the bridge to be closed for one year.

The plan will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for approval and consideration for a future construction grant.

Ann Venables, consultant project manager for URS Corporation that conducted the PD&E study, said the public would continue to be involved during the design phase, which would decide the layout and height of the bridge.

“The community will have a say,” she said.

Beckett Bridge is one of the few highway single-leaf rolling-life bascule bridges left in the state of Florida and is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Venable said coordination with the Cultural Resource Committee would continue to reduce the impact of removing the old bridge. Mitigation plans will be included in a memorandum of agreement that must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration, State Historic Preservation Office, Florida Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard, Pinellas County and the city of Tarpon Springs.

Mitigation could include documenting the bridge with photographs and other information for the Historical American Engineering Record, creating a monument or educational kiosk in a public space or incorporation of a portion of the existing bridge into the new bridge.

No one from the public attended the April 15 meeting. Only 100 out of 1,200 invited attended a Feb. 26 meeting at the Tarpon Springs Yacht Club. Of those 100, only 22 made comments – 19 in support of the preferred alternative.

Venables said lack of opposition likely signaled people were OK with the plan.

“Usually people who are not upset don’t write in,” she said.

Commissioner Norm Roche asked about a request made at the Feb. 26 meeting to pave the “leads” in and out of the project area. Jim Phillips, chief bridge engineer for URS, recommended against any additions to the existing project. Ivan Fernandez, interim director of the county’s Engineering and Technical Support department, said he is coordinating with the city to try to make the paving an add-on project instead of a part of the bridge replacement project.

Venables pointed out that the project would include some roadway and drainage improvements. The proposed roadway will provide two 11-foot wide travel lanes with 6-foot wide sidewalks and 5.5-foot wide shoulders proposed on both sides. West of the bridge, travel lanes will be 10-foot wide with a sidewalk on the north side only to avoid property impacts.

The new bridge will be built within the existing right of way. It will not affect driveways or intersections with Riverside Drive.

Hurricane and storm damage reduction project

County commissioners also gave unanimous approval to an amendment to the interlocal agreement with the city of Tarpon Springs for the Whitcomb and Kreamer bayous hurricane and storm damage reduction project.

Pinellas County signed the agreement with the city on May 8, 2012 to fund a not-to-exceed amount of $500,000 for 50 percent of the non-federal cost of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to stabilize roadside shorelines in the city.

Approximately 50 percent of the shoreline borders county maintained roads that serve as hurricane evacuation routes. To date, the county has reimbursed the city $497,425 per the terms of the agreement.

Now that the project is almost complete, the Corps of Engineers estimates that another $300,000 is necessary to finish the work and has requested $160,049 from Tarpon Springs. The city is asking the county to cover 50 percent of the cost increase. The additional funds will come from Penny for Pinellas.
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