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Bridge opening will end journey

For Don Hambidge, five years of work and worry will come to a happy yet sad fruition with the causeway bridge grand opening.

Published May 20, 2007


TREASURE ISLAND - Building the Treasure Island Causeway has been more than a project for Don Hambidge. For the city's public works director, it has been more like raising a child.

In the beginning, he was anxious. Throughout the construction, he has spent many sleepless nights worrying about the project and the costs.

And, this summer, on graduation day, he will finally see the fruits of his labor.

"It's been the only thing I've done for the last five years, and it's kind of sad to see it come to an end, " said Hambidge.

If Hambidge is really sad, he's the only one in Treasure Island who feels that way.

City leaders and residents will celebrate the grand opening of the Causeway Bridge during a ceremony tentatively set for Aug. 25.

Admittedly, the opening will require closing the bridge to traffic. But, it will only be long enough for a boat parade to navigate under the $50-million structure.

When the boats head south under the bridge, the 10-foot tall, tile mosaic of the city seal will be in clear view on the north face of the new tender's tower.

Decorative banners will wave to motorists and boaters from the bridge's lightposts. Sea creatures will smile from painted tiles along the span, and the seafoam green railings will be curved to resemble ocean waves.

"There's nothing off the shelf on this bridge; it's all custom, " said city spokesman Jeff Jensen.

This week will probably be the last time the bridge has to be closed for concrete pours on the new roadway. Hambidge said it likely will be closed to motorists a couple of times next month so that crews can drive the piles for the bridge fenders. And once again in July to be painted.

So far, the project is expected to be completed on time and to meet all cost projections.

The Aug. 25 ceremonies were scheduled so that Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who secured the federal grant for the bridge, can attend.

Jensen is hoping to have a marching high school band perform during the festivities, and he's producing hourlong videos of the entire project for all of the crew members and for residents who want to purchase the historical discs.

"We've got all kinds of things up our sleeves, " Mayor Mary Maloof said of the party. "This bridge is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece."

Hambidge said the real beauty of the bridge is inside - in the technology and engineering. The bridge opens with a push-pull hydraulic system driven by NASA-like, touch-screen technology from a bridge tender's office with bulletproof glass and a 700-pound door. The deck spans are 20 inches thick and rise 21 feet above the mean high water line.

"When they say it's a 75-year bridge, they mean it, " said Hambidge.

The project began nearly 10 years ago when city leaders first started paying for emergency repairs to the badly deteriorating former bridge. Portions of the original bridge, which opened in 1939, will be preserved in a city park.

Instead of building a lower cost, no-frills bridge, city commissioners opted to invest in a bridge that would capture the welcoming theme they have tried to incorporate throughout the island community. Congressman Young announced the grant just as the city was trying to secure financing for the project. The only caveat: the toll booth had to go.

When the first half of the bridge opened to motorists last June, it was free, and the view of the Gulf of Mexico was clear.

"The view from the bridge tender house is magnificent, " said Hambidge. "And I think it's an extremely graceful and pretty bridge. I never expected it to look as good as the pictures and I think it's looks even better, " he said.

Next month, Hambidge will be telling the story of the bridge at the state Department of Transportation's Project Management Conference in Orlando. He plans to share his experiences and his advice.

Like raising a child, he'll tell them, building a bridge requires more than scientific knowledge.

"It's the art of developing your judgment skills and leading people, " he'll say.

In the end, like a proud parent, Hambidge said it was worth every gray hair.

"I just had so much fun building this, " he said. "Personally, it has been a great experience."

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 20:59:44]

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