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By MAUREEN BYRNE
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
The new causeway is estimated to cost $29-million and construction would begin in about 21/2 years. Planners must choose between a drawbridge and an elevated fixed span.
Later this month, the county will select the firm that will design the new Belleair Causeway. But it will be another 21/2 years before construction begins on the project.
Three Tampa firms -- HDR Engineering, TYLin International and Ayres & Associates -- have submitted proposals to Pinellas County, said project manager Tony Horrnik.
"At this time, we are reviewing the proposals and trying to make up our minds," he said.
The new bridge is estimated to cost $29-million. It will be funded by the 1 percent countywide sales tax, Penny for Pinellas. The design phase, which could last up to 30 months, should begin in January.
Planners will have to decide whether to keep the bridge a drawbridge or make it a fixed span. The bridge, which was built in 1950, is a major evacuation route.
"It's a complicated process," Horrnik said. "One of the biggest challenges is coming up with something that will be acceptable to most citizens."
An elevated bridge would eliminate flooding and traffic tie-ups, but it might block some residents' views of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Horrnik said a series of public meetings will be held during the design phase.
Belleair Beach Mayor Kaye Woolcott said she is glad to hear the project is finally moving ahead. For years, residents there have been asking the county to replace the drawbridge with a fixed span.
"I'm delighted," she said. "We need it badly." Belleair Bluffs officials agree that a new bridge is necessary, but they want to make sure aesthetics are a high priority.
"One of our concerns is that it is not an eyesore," said Belleair Bluffs Commissioner Chris Arbutine. "(The county) has been willing to work with us. We're happy with that. We just want to make sure whatever kind of bridge is there, that the people who are most affected by it have some say."
Arbutine said another concern for Belleair Bluffs residents is having easy access to a boat ramp on the causeway.
Horrnik said the firm that is awarded the contract will post updates of the project on its Web site.
The existing bridge, which links Belleair Beach to the mainland, is reaching the end of its 50-year life expectancy. The structure is obsolete, and it is starting to deteriorate, Horrnik said.