More than 7,000 vehicles a day cross Beckett Bridge in Tarpon Springs. The aging bridge, built in1924, is the subject of a study to decide whether it should be removed, rehabilitated or replaced.
TARPON SPRINGS – Pinellas County and the Florida Department of Transportation are nearing the end of a Project Development and Environment Study, which started in 2012, to gather information to help decide what to do about the aging Beckett Bridge.
There are four basic choices: do nothing but necessary repairs, remove the bridge, rehabilitate it or replace it.
County staff is scheduled to update the Tarpon Springs Commission on the status of the
bridge project during their Oct. 1 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 324 E. Pine St.
Beckett Bridge was built in 1924. It 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.
Major portions of the bridge were reconstructed in 1956. It received repairs in 1979 and 1988. The most recent repair was in 2011 to fix problems with the operating machinery and the movable bridge span. Because of it deteriorating condition, some large heavy trucks and other vehicles, including school buses are no longer allowed to cross it.
The bridge is functionally obsolete and in need of major rehabilitation or replacement to keep it open and operating efficiently.
Ivan Fernandez, planning and design section manager with the Division of Engineering and Technical Support for the county’s Department of Environment & Infrastructure, said staff had made no decisions on its recommendations thus far. He said they still need answers from the State Historic Preservation Officer about the bridge’s eligibility to be placed on the National Register of Historical Places. Staff also submitted a more detailed engineering analysis to the Federal Highway Administration in response to its questions.
“It is anticipated that county staff will select a recommended alternative within the next few months and present that alternative to the Board of County Commissioners,” Fernandez said in an email.
County staff has spent hours in outreach to the Tarpon Springs community, in particular to the neighbors surrounding the bridge. Beckett Bridge is important to Tarpon Springs, not only for its historic significance but also because it spans Whitcomb Bayou, connecting Spring Boulevard and Riverside Drive. More than 7,000 vehicles pass over the bridge each day. It’s an evacuation route. The movable bridge allows vessels assess to deeper water and to shelter in case of tropical weather.
County staff learned that the majority of residents want to keep the bridge during a community workshop on Jan. 23. Most want a new movable bridge with the second highest number preferring rehabilitation of the current bridge. Only a small number favored a new fixed bridge.
The public also wants bicycle lanes and sidewalks on the bridge, as well as on Riverside Drive. County staff points out that Riverside Drive belongs to the city of Tarpon Springs. The county is not responsible for sidewalks, bicycle lanes or maintenance along that roadway.
Vertical clearance under the bridge is important. Residents said a bridge with less vertical clearance could affect waterfront property values by restricting access to deeper water for tall boats. They pointed out that Tarpon Springs has a number of water-based community events, which make a movable bridge important. On the flip said, others said that not enough boats needed more than 28-feet of clearance to justify the cost of a movable bridge.
Cost was a big concern. Some said spending money to rehabilitate a bridge that ultimately must be replaced was futile, while others said spending money on a new bridge was not acceptable. Some said that continually paying for repairs was a waste of money.
Most recent cost estimates put a price tag of $9.5 million on rehab work for the old bridge, $15.8 million for a new movable bridge with a 7- to 8-foot vertical clearance, and $11.1 million for a new fixed bridge with a 28-foot vertical clearance. The price of a fixed bridge also would include the cost of right-of-way purchases.
Fernandez pointed out that the costs given in January were best estimates based on available information at the time.
“Costs are difficult to anticipate at this point, since there are too many factors that are still undetermined,” he said. “Once an alternative is selected, some general cost estimates can be more reasonably developed.”
County staff will update Tarpon Springs Commissioners Oct. 1, but Fernandez said there is not much new to report at this time.
“We anticipate that substantial progress will be made towards selecting a recommended alternative in the next few months,” he said.