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Neighbors seek solution to beach bridge dilemma

Causeway Isles residents worry how a replacement to the aging bridge to Treasure Island would affect them.

By ANDREW MEACHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Causeway Isles residents on Monday heard what Treasure Island officials know about plans for a new causeway bridge -- which is to say, not much.

In return, Treasure Island's mayor and city manager got an earful from their St. Petersburg neighbors who don't want a bridge built in their backyards.

The existing bridge, built in 1937, was designed to last 50 years, said Treasure Island public works director Don Hambridge. Although the span has outlasted that, the structural and reinforcing steel is corroding, he said.

Most of the parameters for the bridge design remain up for grabs. A drawbridge 20 feet tall would eliminate 75-80 percent of bridge openings, according to a three-year boat traffic analysis. But engineers at URS/EC Driver & Associates, the firm hired by the city to study and design the bridge, must consider all options in order to remain eligible for federal help, Hambridge said.

None of the ambiguity appeared to improve the mood of neighbors, who are concerned that a bigger bridge could be even noisier or prompt their property values to drop.

"It looks like we're the ones who are going to be inconvenienced," said Jerry Babcock, who recently retired as executive director of the Police Athletic League. Babcock, 53, said he bought his home 18 years ago on Fourth Avenue S as an investment. At a minimum, he would prefer the toll plaza be moved to the Treasure Island side.

Other proposals included discounting toll for residents who live within a half-mile of the bridge and slowing traffic. Treasure Island Mayor Leon Atkinson and City Manager Chuck Coward said they would consider all options.

The project is in its first phase, a two-year engineering study that will answer the question of renovation or reconstruction.

Treasure Island expects to close on a house at 8031 Causeway Blvd. S in June for $225,000. Coward said the city could use part of the property as a staging area for construction vehicles and equipment or turn it into a public park. It remains unclear whether the city will need to acquire more private property in order to build the new bridge.

Few residents questioned the need to upgrade the existing bridge, which is 7 to 8 feet above the water at mid tide.

"I think people are scared about what's going to happen to their property, and rightfully so," the neighborhood association's Charlotte Hughes said.

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