Just over five years ago our local county governments deemed that our old Gandy Bridge was too unsafe for public use. “It might not hold the weight of a firetruck that went to rescue someone” and “put up signs warning people not to be under the bridge because falling concrete may hit their head” were among the reasons county commissioners gave for their decision.
Then, with finality, they declared the structural engineer won’t sign off that the bridge is safe. Up went the fences to prevent access by bicyclists, fishermen, joggers and the public in general to save them from doom. This sounds a little like the fence at the St. Pete Pier, doesn’t it?
Our Friendship Trail Bridge is standing straight and true as it was 40 years ago. No sags, no collapses, and no one has been hit on the head with falling bridge materials. Where is common sense when you consider public safety? If safety is really the issue, the FTB is dangerous as a public facility compared to what? Compared to a sidewalk next to a busy street where pedestrians walk within six feet of speedy traffic? Compared to swimming along the Courtney Campbell Causeway with known holes that have claimed many swimmers over the years but remains “open”? Compared to bicycle lanes painted along automobile traffic lanes, such as Tampa’s Euclid Avenue?
Do our commissioners really believe that a hapless jogger on the FTB will fall into the dark abyss of Tampa Bay as the bridge falls from beneath his feet, never to be seen again? Do they really believe that the bridge wouldn’t give some warning of collapse, such as a sag or partial failure of a portion of a section of a span? Do you really believe that any engineer would sign their name, reputation and, most of all, their liability to guarantee an old bridge? Is the real issue the demolition contract? Have you seen the bicyclists using the other two bridges with high-speed traffic whizzing by them because the FTB is closed?
Where was the money for operating an existing Friendship Trail facility when the Courtney Campbell Trail ate up $14.6 million “shovel-ready” dollars? Where is the public outcry when such a valuable asset is needlessly (at least for now and the past five years) going to be destroyed? Where is common sense for safety when all you need is a sign that reads “Use at your own risk. No lifeguard on duty”? Hotel pools routinely display that signage.
Commissioners, tear down that fence! And keep it torn down until the bridge really does begin to fail. That could mean another 20 years of life for the Friendship Trail Bridge.
John P. Colman