Beach to gain bridge for bikes, pedestrians

Published May 3, 2007

CLEARWATER BEACH - More construction is about to hit the beach, but this time, traffic shouldn't be affected.

This summer, work is expected to start on the long-talked-about pedestrian and bicycle bridge that will stretch 300 feet across Mandalay Channel just south of the fishing pier.

The 15-foot-wide bridge, connecting the western end of the Memorial Causeway to Clearwater Beach, is expected to serve the more than 5, 000 people a week who now use two cramped sidewalks on the existing vehicle bridge.

Additionally, the bridge will be strong enough to support ambulances and police cruisers that currently need to navigate through and around busy beach traffic during emergency calls. Fire trucks, though, are too heavy.

Fishing from the bridge will not be allowed.

The bridge, which will cost about $3-million, is also planned to have a boat clearance of 13 feet, 6 inches.

"Most people are going to know it as an alternate way to get to the beach by bike, but it will also be a way for public safety (vehicles) to get there quicker if they have to during those busy spring break days, " city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said.

The City Council is expected to hire American Bridge Corp., based in Orlando, later this month to build the bridge. Work should start in June and be completed in 14 months.

While some recent beach construction, notably the city's BeachWalk promenade, has caused headaches for motorists, work on the pedestrian bridge will be done from a barge or the causeway, so it isn't expected to affect traffic to and from the beach.

Federal transportation money will pay for the bridge because it aligns with government priorities to ease traffic congestion and improve air quality.

The bridge will be the westernmost link in the Ream Wilson Trail, a meandering east-west greenway belt that eventually will stretch from Safety Harbor past the Long Center and end at Clearwater Beach.

The 11-mile recreational trail is being built in segments and is a little less than half-complete.

City leaders initially wanted to build a mini bridge like the Sunshine Skyway, with a cable-stayed design, but learned in September 2005 that the project - about $5.3-million at the time - would cost too much, said Mike Quillen, city director of engineering. A flat concrete bridge now will be beam-built, the cheapest and simplest form of bridge building.