tampabay.com

Bill due on forgotten bridge

Fixing the foot bridge could cost $120,000, less than expected

By MIKE DONILA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007


CLEARWATER - A small pedestrian bridge the city forgot to take care of doesn't need to be replaced, but repairs could still cost taxpayers big bucks.

The city will more than likely spend around $120,000 repainting the Mandalay Channel pedestrian underpass, a little-known walkway that runs under the Mandalay Channel bridge and connects the north and south fishing piers.

Built in 1999 so that pedestrians didn't have to cross the west end of the Memorial Causeway, the bridge suffers from advanced corrosion.

City leaders initially thought they'd have to spend $500,000 to replace the entire walkway, but they asked a consultant who specializes in protective coating to see if there was any way to save it.

The firm, KTA-Tator of Nashville, Tenn., recommends removing the current coating and repainting it, according to a report delivered to the city this month. That probably would cost around $120,000, but should keep the bridge safe for another 14 to 18 years.

The firm, paid $1,800 for its work, also recommended a number of local contractors for the job.

The city did not ask KTA-Tator to determine how safe the bridge is or whether it should be replaced. The company was asked specifically about painting maintenance.

But McCarthy & Associates, an engineer consultant, said as long as the city repaints the bridge then it should be safe. The contractor, with an office in Clearwater, was paid about $1,000 to study the bridge, said Quillen.

Built with steel and concrete, the 85-foot-long underpass was developed in conjunction with the roundabout that opened in December 1999. It came with a warranty, but it covered only defects in the materials and the workmanship.

City leaders say roughly 10 percent of the underpass has spot rusting, most of it at the bottom where salt water from a busy 2004 hurricane season submerged the bridge. The underpass is about 3 feet from the water at its lowest point.

Clearwater leaders say what should have been routine maintenance on the bridge "fell through the cracks" and the structure wasn't inspected until a year ago, when the corrosion was discovered. Since then, City Manager Bill Horne said, the city has taken inventory of its property and assigned each piece to a specific department for oversight. Horne said no one took care of the Mandalay underpass because it was new and no particular department was asked to look after it.

"Mistakes can happen sometimes when there's confusion over who's responsible for it, but we're not going to have an error like this again," Horne said.

The underpass was closed in early March to determine its stability and give the city time to figure out whether the damage was covered under the warranty. It reopened in May.

Quillen said the city will let local contractors bid on the project with the City Council making the final decision. He said the work on the bridge probably won't be complete until early next year.

The city would pay for it from money set aside in a streets and sidewalks fund that's supported with taxpayer dollars.

Mike Donila can be reached at mdonila@sptimes.com or 727 445-4160.