Despite continuing traffic problems throughout the Tampa Bay area — and the seemingly endless construction — there comes a time when the public needs to stand and cheer.
Such an occasion was on Monday, when a new bridge along the Courtney Campbell Causeway opened to the public.
First and foremost: This is a bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists only, and it spans Tampa Bay. Motor vehicles are prohibited.
The structure will fill a major void, considering the Friendship TrailBridge over Tampa Bay was closed in 2008 due to safety concerns.
The 4-mile-long, 16-foot-wide pedestrian trail bridge along the Courtney Campbell, a project of the Florida Department of Transportation, is magnificent. At the bridge’s apex, users are 45 feet above the water.
Sure, some people may question why DOT would spend $14.6 million on a bridge that doesn’t allow cars and trucks. But this is a quality-of-life issue — a place where people can relax or exercise while taking in the beauty of the bay in a safe environment.
The Tampa Bay area has a horrendous record when it comes to pedestrian deaths — double the national average, according to DOT officials.
And before the new bridge came online, the only route for bicyclists along the Courtney Campbell, also known as State Road 60, was 2-foot shoulders.
Bicyclists, clearly, need more options in the Tampa Bay area than narrow paths along roads with fast-moving traffic. On Labor Day, for instance, a couple on a tandem bike along Clearwater’s Memorial Causeway were struck by a pickup truck. One rider died, while the other was badly injured.
The money used to build the pedestrian bridge came from federal dollars set aside specifically for such projects. So, there is no question this is an appropriate use of the money and that both walkers, runners and cyclists now have a much safer place to go.
And eventually, the bridge will link with other trails in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties — continuing the Tampa Bay area’s impressive development of recreational trails.
Communities need to provide more safe havens for walkers, runners and bicyclists. Bicycle lanes and sidewalks are fine, but there is always a chance someone can get hurt when a motorist gets distracted or is driving recklessly. On the new pedestrian bridge, users will be safe from that type of danger.
The bridge is sure to enhance our community, reduce our stress levels and make us healthier. This is a project that should make all bay area residents proud.
And to be able to ride, run or walk for exercise or just for fun while watching dolphins swim — well, it doesn’t get much better than that.