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Can the Friendship Trail Bridge Be Saved?

A volunteer group fighting to keep the Friendship Trail Bridge from being demolished received good news at a conference held at the foot of the bridge on Wednesday, May 9.

What kind of outdoor activities would you like to do on the Friendship Trail Bridge? Biking? Jogging? Fishing? Tell us in the comments section below.

South Tampa resident Carlos Orozco wants to wake up one sunny morning, grab his fishing gear and head out into the waters of Tampa Bay for some fishing, but he has a problem. With no boat, there is little chance Orozco will get out far enough to catch anything worthwhile.

If a volunteer group currently aiming to save the Friendship Trail Bridge from demolition is successful, however, Orozco will have his day on the water and won't have to spend a penny on gas to do it.

Kevin Thurman, a Tampa marketing consultant, has joined forces with other concerned citizens to work toward creating a public-private partnership with Hillsborough and Pinellas counties that will see the bridge revamped and turned into an iconic landmark linear park accessible from either side of the bay.

"The expensive part of building a bridge is driving the pillars into the ground," Thurman said. "Why throw the baby out with the bath water when all this bridge needs is new deck sections? The estimated cost of the project is around $18 million and could serve as the route connecting downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa someday with the traveler never requiring a car."

The only portion of funds the proposed project would take from taxpayers is from the $5.2 million the counties already plan on using to destroy the bridge completely. The remaining $13.7 million of the funds would be raised by the citizen group seeking out investors and through the sale of naming rights for the bridges 252 deck sections that need to be replaced.

"This is something that we've already had a great reaction to," Thurman said. "We would like to form a public-private partnership with the counties that will give something that we need around here. It will go along with projects like to show the positive direction the city is going in and be a big benefit to the South Tampa area and the property values down here."

The Hillsborough County Commission was set to vote on the destruction of the Friendship Trail Bridge last month, but delayed it until May 16 to allow the citizen group to organize a plan. In 30 days, they have developed the basis of a plan, from funding to potential business opportunities and even a design of what the bridge would look after its completion in 2017. At a conference held at the foot of the bridge on Wednesday, May 9, the commission rewarded the citizen group with an extension on getting the presentation together and delayed the vote once again until June 6.

"The commission is eager to work with our partners in Pinellas County and have been really impressed with the work done by this group of citizens," County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said. "I'm hoping that this is something we can do and I want to offer my support for this project. People in Florida ought to be out biking, walking and enjoying the outdoors."

The project is modeled after similar ideas around the country such as the High Line in New York City although none of the others are as expansive as the 2.6 mile stretch that the Friendship Trail Bridge covers.

A big selling point for the bridge is the effect it could have on promoting healthy lifestyles in the Tampa Bay Area. Jordan Miller, owner of in Seminole Heights, is hoping to see the project succeed.

"It's a phenomenal idea that could have a tremendous impact on the cycling community," Miller said. "There aren't many areas with this much space away from traffic. It would be a real shame to lose this when it could pay for itself and be a real destination for people to come enjoy themselves. They've already spent millions building trail systems and infrastructure leading up to this bridge so it fits right in for those who want to commute from one city to the other."

The wastefulness of complete demolition is a big point for the community group. With the counties already working on plans for a pedestrian and cyclist bridge for the Courtney Campbell Causeway amongst other community projects, the Friendship Trail Bridge project is something the citizens group believes is just as necessary.

"With the potential for special events and all this bridge could offer, it fits right in with what the other projects around the county are trying to do," Ken Cowart, an architect who is helping head up the citizens group said. "You could have a 5K across the bay every year. If you tear it apart, it's gone, so now is the time to act on this project and make something of it."

For Orozco, the chance to fish on the bridge legally again would be a welcome site.

"I grew up here and we used to always come out here before they shut it down," Orozco said. "Now you have to sneak out there and if they catch you they'll fine you. I'd rather they build something than take away our fishing hole. There is good fishing out there, so if there is a way we can get to it, that's what we want."

Mellita Lane May 11, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I heard they (the government, whether it be city, county, or state funded) are building a NEW trail bridge from Rocky Point to Clearwater. It is unclear to me why this bridge would be demolished, with millions in funds going towards building a brand new footbridge more north, by the causeway. It seems to me that the southern portion of Tampa is more populated, and we would be served better by saving the Friendship trail, which also gives us Tampanians bike acccess to Weedon Island and downtown St. Pete...

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