The Friendship Trail Bridge gets a 30-day reprieve

Hillsborough Commissioners want to see safety studies and a business plan.

But Crist said for the advocates to have any realistic chance of saving the bridge, they would need to provide a business plan and a budget, and would have to address the safety questions which led both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties to condemn the structure.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner challenged the advocates to produce an engineering study that contradicts the county's. He said he's asked for such reports repeatedly in the past and hasn't received anything to date.

Commissioner Ken Hagan said the debate has been going on for five years, and he was ready to tear the bridge down. "It's been discussed, it's been vetted, and the engineering study clearly shows that the bridge needs to come down." But since the discussion has gone on since 2007, he didn't see a down side to waiting another month, and voted with the rest of the board 6-0.

As featured in a recent CL story, the effort to save the bridge is being led by the man who saved it back in the late 1990s, Neil Cosentino. He told Commissioners on Wednesday that the smart thing to do would be to "lease" the bridge to entrepreneurs for about five years to see what they might make of it.

Architect Ken Cowart called on the board to ask for a 90-day reprieve so that an alternative solution to razing the structure could be found. Referring to politicians' oft-used characterization of Tampa Bay as a "super region," he said the bridge represents a powerfully symbolic connection between Pinellas and Hillsborough. "I understand the bridge has structural issues," he acknowledged, but said the county was being unimaginative in only exploring one proposal ? demolition.

When contacted by CL later this afternoon, Cosentino was optimistic about getting the bridge a new lease on life ? even if that life doesn't last very long. He says he will get everybody who has been involved in maintaining the bridge to start working together, and wants to divvy up the various tasks the commission is calling for. "In other words, one group does communication, another does marketing, fundraising, engineering, and so forth."

He says that work begins tomorrow.

A Facebook page has been set up to save the bridge, which you can access here.

  • Neil Cosentino

Hillsborough County Commissioners today agreed to a slight delay in tearing down the Friendship Trail Bridge. A proposal to spend $4.2 million to raze the structure was before the board, but after several bridge advocates begged for more time, commissioners agreed to a slight delay — allowing them 30 days to provide information to county administrator Mike Merrill, who will then return to the commission with his assessment of their plans.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he continues to receive phone calls asking commissioners to hold off on razing the structure, and asked county staff how much longer would they be okay with a delay. He was told no longer than 90 days. He called for a two-week delay, but Commissioner Victor Crist then suggested a full month's delay.

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