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Tampa bridge spans 86 years

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:51 PM
TAMPA -

An airboat revved to life and shot into view, skimming the Hillsborough River before bursting through a red ribbon stretched beneath the refurbished Columbus Drive bridge.

In dramatic fashion, local leaders rededicated the iconic bridge that 86 years ago united the neighborhoods of West Tampa and Tampa Heights.

"Today Tampa has proven it respects its past, deserves its future, and a bright one at that," said Sharon Keene, a Riverside Heights resident who spearheaded a movement to save the bridge.

She was among about 20 people who attended Friday's ceremony, including Hillsborough County Commissioners Les Miller and Kevin Beckner, State Rep. Janet Cruz and Tampa City Council members Charlie Miranda and Mike Suarez.

Through the years the bridge — at Columbus and Rome Avenue — has been a community landmark. Children fished and dived off the bridge. Miranda said thousands of baptisms took place there.

The bridge tender was an unofficial lifeguard and truant officer, Keene said.

"He would warn the kids about alligators and snakes in the river," she said. And when he left work, he would knock on doors and ask parents whether they knew their children had played hooky from school.

Built in 1926 at a cost of about $420,000, the bridge is one of two remaining bobtail swing bridges in Florida and one of nine in the United States. It has the distinction of being the widest of the bobtail bridges, with two lanes in each direction plus sidewalks.

To open for boat traffic, the 103-foot bobtail rotates on a turntable and swings horizontally, staying parallel with the river. In contrast, most drawbridges separate in the middle, with the two halves rising vertically.

Because the bridge's pivot point is not at dead center, the bridge opens wider and makes it easier for boats to navigate, said Mike Williams, the county's engineering and environmental services division director.

The restoration was an $8.75 million joint project largely funded by the city and county.

About $6.85 million was from community investment tax dollars. Nearly $2 million of the cost was covered by a federal grant issued through the Florida Department of Transportation.

Work included replacing the bridge's mechanical elements and control system, road upgrades, paint, structural repairs to concrete and steel and reconstruction of the tender house.

"This is what really makes America," Miranda said. "You want to put people to work fixing your infrastructure."


ksteele@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7652

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