Responding to pleas from the public, Hillsborough County commissioners today voted to delay by 30 days awarding a $4.2 million contract to demolish the Friendship Trailbridge.
Six speakers asked the commission for the delay so they could provide evidence that the bridge is not unsafe and can be repaired at a reasonable price. Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who said he had been receiving calls from bridge supporters right up to today's meeting, made a motion to delay awarding the contract to American Bridge Co. for two weeks. Commissioner Victor Crist amended the motion to give the bridge proponents 30 days to provide evidence to refute several engineering studies that say the bridge structure is beyond repair.
"What I want us to do is see if the advocates can come back in a short time period with a plan that would include some analysis that makes a case for further study," Sharpe said.
Kenneth Cowart, one of about six people who spoke in support of delaying the demolition, said an engineering study by the county estimated that it would take $30 million to restore the bridge but they never accepted bids on restoration. The county had estimated it would cost $13 million to demolish the bridge but the low bid came back at $4.2 million.
"There are other options," Cowart said.
Speakers presented petitions with 850 signatures in support of saving the bridge.
American Bridge Co. scored highest among proposals submitted to the county Procurement Services Department. American Bridge would demolish 80 percent of the bridge under the contract with an offer to demolish the remaining sections for just over $1 million.
The 56-year-old structure was formerly a span of the Gandy Bridge. In December 1999 it was closed to vehicular traffic and turned into a 2.6 mile recreational trail that was used by half a million joggers, bicyclists, hikers and fishermen a year.
In November 2008 it was shut down because bridge support piers were showing extensive corrosion.
In other action, the commission honored U.S. Army Spec. Michael Davis Elm, who died Oct. 14 in Afghanistan. Elm, 25, was killed by an explosive device. He was a recipient of the Bronze Star for valor, a Purple Heart and other service decorations. Commission Chairman Ken Hagan presented a plaque to Elm's parents, Donna and Dennis Elm. The soldier's name will be engraved on a memorial in Joe Chillura Courthouse Square with the names of other fallen service members from Hillsborough County.