Bridge's life span may be short
By KATHY SAUNDERS
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000
TREASURE ISLAND -- The engineering firm expected to determine the fate of the Causeway Bridge oversaw the two most recent renovations on the 64-year-old span. But in making a pitch last week to city officials, URS/EC Driver & Associates offered this first impression: Treasure Island needs a new bridge.
On Tuesday, city commissioners will be asked to select the Tampa engineer to conduct the study that chooses between renovation or replacement.
"They were the only firm that met all of our criteria with flying colors," said City Manager Chuck Coward.
EC Driver, the bridge design branch of the company, has experience renovating historic spans in Florida and elsewhere, including the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine and the Royal Park Bridge in Palm Beach.
In Treasure Island, though, the firm that renovated the Causeway in 1985 and '95 suggests that a new bridge be built.
"They suggested that it would be too hard to retain the existing structure because of its deterioration," Coward said. "But no decisions have been made and no decisions will be made until we go through the formal Project Development and Environmental study."
In their proposal to commissioners, representatives of EC Driver said the city should build a new bridge above and adjacent to the existing span.
They would close two lanes and redirect traffic on one side of the existing bridge while they begin the first half of a new bridge.
Once the northern half of the bridge is complete, traffic would move to the new structure and the old bridge would be demolished. The engineer also has suggested a concrete drawbridge rather than steel to cut down on noise.
In that scenario, the bridge would need to be closed for about two weeks to replace the drawbridge section.
Even if a new bridge is built, Coward said the design could incorporate and preserve some of the historic elements of the existing structure.
Ultimately, it will be up to city commissioners to select the new design.
The first major phase is the PD&E study, expected to take two years and cost between $1-million and $2-million, depending on the scope of the project. City officials are hoping that some of the bridge design work can be completed during the two-year study.
Last Tuesday, commissioners and a team of city planners and Florida Department of Transportation officials watched presentations from four firms interested in the city's project. In addition to EC Driver, the city reviewed proposals from the Greenhorne & O'Mara Team of Tampa, RS&H (Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc.) of Tampa and the Miller Consulting/PBS&J Team of Deerfield Beach.
Miller conducted a preliminary study of the bridge last year in which several alternatives -- a high, fixed-span bridge and a tunnel -- were explored.
Those options also will be included in the PD&E study, expected to begin in January.
"They must look at all the options all over again," Coward said. "In many of our minds, we may have picked a favorite, but no decisions have been made."
In January, the engineers will begin by developing a financial package for the city. When the bridge is ready for construction in 2004, the city expects to have about $10-million in its Causeway Bridge fund. It will need to raise another $30-million to $40-million to complete the project.
The PD&E study also will determine whether the city wants to seek a federal grant for a new bridge. If the city accepts federal money, it also would have to meet more stringent federal regulations about design.
Coward said he does not foresee any increase in bridge tolls during the PD&E study. However, that's something the Miller group recommended in the past.
"I don't see toll modifications until we have a good handle on the overall financing package," he said.
In the next two years, the engineers will be conducting surveys that get as detailed as taking inventories of sea grass near the bridge. The study also will involve getting permits from the Coast Guard for a new structure.
Coward said the technical review committee recommended EC Driver for the job because of its experience on Treasure Island.
"They know all the utilities, the roadways and the storm drainage around here like nobody else," he said. "That was a major factor."
The committee was looking for a firm that had experience in designing bridges and knowledge of Florida Department of Transportation procedures and historical preservation. It also wanted a firm that could develop a financial package and build a bridge that looks good.
"This will be one of the largest public works projects in the Tampa Bay area in quite a while," said Coward.
Mayor Leon Atkinson, who said he favors replacing rather than renovating the bridge, said he wants the city to sign a contract for construction of a new bridge by March 2003 when his term ends.
"When will something like this ever, ever happen again?" he said. "This is really big stuff."
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