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By NICK JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 28, 2007
ST. PETE BEACH - The Florida Department of Transportation is holding an informational meeting tonight about the ailing bridges of the Pinellas Bayway system.
The bottom line: The bridges need to be replaced, and tolls need to go up to help fund it.
Marked by malfunctions and increased maintenance costs, the two drawbridges that connect Isla del Sol to Tierra Verde and St. Pete Beach are scheduled to be replaced within several years.
According to the proposed finance plan, the 50-cent tolls that have been in place for more than 20 years along the east and west portions of the Bayway will be increased to $1.25. The tolls to the south leading to Fort De Soto Park will go from 35 cents to $2.50.
"This is what's needed to fund these bridges, and by doing this we will be able to start construction," Don Skelton, the DOT District 7 secretary, said.
The meeting will have an opportunity for public comment, but will be aimed at addressing concerns rather than gathering opinions.
"I don't think there's much you can say. They're going to build it anyway," St. Pete Beach Commissioner Harry Metz said.
Metz represents residents of the Pass-a-Grille neighborhood, many of whom rely heavily on the Pinellas Bayway Bridge.
"When the bridge was brand-new and the toll was started, they told us it was to build a new one when the bridge deteriorated. Now it's time and they've spent all the money," he said.
That is a common misconception, Skelton said.
"No Bayway funds have been spent on any projects other than the widening of Blind Pass Road, and that was directed by the Legislature in the early '90s," Skelton said.
The money has gone to maintain and operate the bridges, which has grown more expensive.
Skelton estimates the present bridges would need rehabilitation within five years costing about $40-million.
Instead, the DOT plans to build two bridges and make other improvements costing almost $180-million. The Bayway trust fund will cover about $36-million.
"It's making a prudent decision to use your money wisely," Skelton said.
Nick Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or 727 893-8361.
If you go
Where: St. Pete Beach Community Center, 7701 Boca Ciega Drive
When: 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.
[Last modified November 27, 2007, 23:26:19]