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Police cracking down on bridge walkway violators

Police say those who ignore the closed sign on the causeway's pedestrian walkway can expect a citation.

By JADE JACKSON LLOYD
Published January 19, 2005


TREASURE ISLAND - The pedestrian walkway on the Treasure Island Causeway's main span closed for construction three weeks ago. Until the new, 10-foot walkway opens in July 2006, those who traverse the city by bike or on foot must find an alternate route for routine exercise or face citations by police.

The entire construction project - to demolish and rebuild both a wider, taller drawbridge and two, nearly completed approach bridges - is slated for completion in 2007. The new drawbridge will be 21 feet off the water.

Residents and visitors have greeted the closure with mixed reaction. Some respect it. Others say they resent the disruption - as evidenced by the citations numbering in the dozens for those crossing illegally, police said.

"We've tried to keep people off," said Don Hambidge, the city's public works director, on Tuesday. "We have it closed off. We have it barricaded. People don't like to have their lives interrupted in any way so they go on it anyway."

Sgt. David DiGiore said he and other patrol officers try to issue a warning first before handing out citations. But if someone ignores police and continues using the bridge, they will be cited, which not only disrupts their exercise but affects their bank accounts.

Both pedestrian and bicycle citations come with fines of $40.50, while vehicle citations - which police can give to bike riders at their discretion - pack a fine of $114.50.

Hambidge said when the bridge was built in 1939, smaller cars and less traffic ruled the day. People walking or biking over the Intracoastal Waterway had to share space with vehicles, he said.

In the 1970s, a boy riding his bike was struck and killed crossing the bridge, resulting in a walkway being built on the drawbridge's north side. The south side houses the bridgekeeper booth, barring a walkway from being constructed, Hambidge said. Because the north side will be torn down first, losing the walkway access is an unfortunate side effect but a necessary one, Hambidge said. Keeping residents safe - and out of dangerous construction zones - is the city's first priority, he said.

"I'd rather have the heated discussion with someone alive about the use or nonuse of the bridge than with a widow or widower once they're dead," he said. "We're trying to protect everyone the best way we can."

What options do those who use the bridge have now?

"They can go the other way," Hambidge said. "If you're looking for exercise, yeah, it's a nice walk. It'll be a nicer walk when it's finished. They can change their routes. You don't have to use this bridge."

City officials say if people want to access Gulf Boulevard, they can go north, over Tom Stuart Causeway to Madeira Beach; or south, through South Pasadena and over the Corey Causeway to St. Pete Beach. A third option is to drive over the city's bridge, park and take it from there.

Joanne and Glenn Newson, snowbirds from Canada, say the closure won't affect their daily, hourlong walks. Joanne Newson, 61, said she appreciates the city's effort to keep people safe.

"I think it's for their safety," she said, walking near the shopping district Tuesday morning. "It's very inconvenient but I guess it's a safety factor."

Gerald DeGrande, 63, said he regularly used the bridge to run, walk and ride his bike. The part-time resident said his solution is to grin and bear it. The entire bridge reconstruction was due, he said.

"I know some people are up in arms about it, but you know, everything that's important takes some sacrifice," he said during a mid morning walk. "I just don't go that way. ...It is the shortest way to get where you want to go, but that's life, isn't it?"