Sand Key bridge

City engineers have reexamined the Sand Key bridge and determined that it is a lot more sturdy than originally thought. The bridge was slated to be replaced in 2045, but now staff believes it won’t be necessary until 2070.

CLEARWATER — While city leaders await estimates for the final phase of construction of the new Coachman Park this summer, they received word that the $64 million project is getting a funding boost from an unexpected source.

The $22 million in Penny for Pinellas sales tax funds dedicated to replacing the Sand Key bridge is being taken off the books and reallocated to the Imagine Clearwater project after engineers found the bridge will last much longer than expected. 

Engineering director Tara Kivett told City Council members May 25 that the bridge, which was built in 1995, was originally expected to last 50 years until 2045.

Kivett called that a conservative approach and consulted with Pinellas County, the Department of Transportation and structural engineers. Her conclusion is that the bridge should be able to last 75 years.

“Construction methods had changed since the ’80s when bridges used to last 15 years and using 75 years is a very solid approach,” she said.

She said the city inspects all vehicular bridges once every two years, and the Sand Key Bridge was inspected in January. 

“If it was going to need replacing in 50 years, it was not showing that type of deterioration,” she said, adding it just needed some minor repairs.

It’s not all good news, however. In 2017, early estimates for the replacement — $41.4 million — were also conservative, she said.

Staff has increased that number to $60 million, but even that will be insufficient by 2070.

“Assuming 3% escalation, that cost would inflate to $263 (million) in 2070 dollars,” according to a staff memo to the council.  

According to Finance director Jay Ravins’ 10-year forecast for the general fund, the operating deficit and capital costs for the Imagine Clearwater redevelopment will also cost the fund $832,700 in fiscal year 2022 and then increase each year up to $2.19 million in FY 2031.

Other big projects will also be playing a significant role in future budgeting, including increased subsidies to the Philadelphia Phillies for spring training facility upgrades and the requirement to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2026, which is expected to cost in excess of $1 million each year.