CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners unanimously approved a request from staff May 5 to submit a grant application for federal funding to help pay for replacing the Dunedin Causeway bridges.
Staff is applying for up to $25 million from the United States Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program.
Cost to replace the causeway’s main bascule bridge and the tide relief bridge is nearly $97 million, which includes design construction and inspection services. If the county receives the $25 million grant, another $62 million would be needed.
Staff said the additional money would come from Penny for Pinellas surtax. Commissioner Karen Seel pointed out that currently only $29 million in Penny money had been budgeted from 2021-2026, leaving about $21 million still unfunded.
The commission would like the Florida Department of Transportation to help fund the cost since the bridge connects to Honeymoon Island State Park. Public Works Director Kelli Levy said if the county gets the BUILD grant, it could better position the project to receive federal stimulus funding.
Seel asked about the timeline to use the money if the county received the $25 million grant. Levy said it would be three years. Levy said the PD&E study was complete and if it is approved by FDOT, the design phase would begin in June.
Commissioners also reluctantly approved spending another $4.1 million for the Forest Lakes Boulevard project. The project from west of Pine Avenue to west of Race Track Road would widen the two-lane divided roadway to a four-lane divided roadway.
The contract was awarded to Pepper Contracting Services in October of 2018 at a cost of just over $12 million.
Since that time, contractor has found “highly variable ground conditions,” resulting in pavement failures in recently completed segments in the eastbound lanes.
Commissioner Dave Eggers said the amount of the contract increase was “unacceptable,” and questioned why enough testing wasn’t done to anticipate the problem in the beginning.
Levy said staff was investigating to see if there was something that was missed. She said the area used to be a wetlands and a lot of fill was added in past years.
County Administrator Barry Burton agreed that the amount of the cost increase was unacceptable, pointing out that the contract was awarded prior to Levy becoming head of Public Works. He said some of the liability should be shifted to the contractor.
“We’re looking at the process from the standpoint to make sure this does not happen again,” he said.
Commissioner Karen Seel said the project had been accelerated, pointing out that the commission knew of the poor conditions at the time. She noted that conditions turned out to be worse than anticipated. She wanted assurances that the problems would be fixed.
Levy said the fill materials were removed and new materials are being added, which would have cost more even if they had been used when the project began. But, as Burton pointed out, commissioners would have been aware of the cost upfront.
Eggers made the motion to approve the extra costs, adding that he preferred that the project get done right rather than doing it fast.
Commissioners also approved a resolution to accept unanticipated revenue from CARES Act funding and money from the Tampa Bay Resiliency fund.
Money from the CARES Act includes $170 million that is being used to pay for programs to provide financial assistance to individuals and businesses.
In addition, $684,870 was awarded for healthcare for the homeless. The specific use of these funds has not yet been determined.
Another $43,500 was made available from the Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund for food and incidentals, van cleaning supplies and vehicle modifications.
An increase of just over $1.6 million has been added to the Emergency Medical Services Fund to support healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue attributable to COVID-19.
An increase of more than $2.2 million is available from a Community Development Grant Fund, including nearly $1.5 million to provide services for senior citizens and the homeless, and public health services.
Lastly, $739,120 is coming from Emergency Solutions Grants program funds to prevent, prepare for, respond to and mitigate the pandemic's impact on individuals and families who are homeless or receiving homeless assistance.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.