New Courtney Campbell bridge reserved for pedestrians, cyclists
CLEARWATER - Heading east on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, telltale signs of a bridge in the making are everywhere: heavy machinery, steel beams jutting out of the water, cranes flanking Ben T. Davis Beach. Soon, there will be a bridge over Tampa Bay exclusively for cyclists, joggers and pedestrians. To avid St. Petersburg cyclist "Boston" Bill Hansbury, it's just what this area needs. "I'm all for it," he said.The new bridge will be the sole bridge over Tampa Bay dedicated to motorless users since the Friendship Trail Bridge closed in 2008. At the moment, getting across the bay sans motor vehicle is treacherous, Hansbury said. "You have no escape," he said. "When you're a cyclist, you're at the mercy of any car coming along to run you over." The bridge would run for 3.9 miles over the water and would be part of a nine-mile scenic pedestrian trail flanking the south side of the Courtney Campbell. Joggers, fishermen and recreational cyclists now use a service road that lines the sections of the causeway that run over land. The pedestrian trail is being built in conjunction with a larger resurfacing project on the Courtney Campbell. Benches, shaded structures and information kiosks could be added along the way, along with expanded parking on either end. At the bridge's apex, the path would clear the water's surface by 45 feet. The Hillsborough County side of the project will be done this summer, and the Pinellas County side is slated for completion next year, Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kristen Carson said. That kind of pace is unusual for Florida. "This is pretty much a first for the state," Carson said. On either end, the trail is expected to link in with other pedestrian paths, such as the Ream Wilson Trail in Clearwater and a utility road in the Rocky Point area. One disadvantage of the bridge for cyclists is that the heavy traffic on both sides of the bridge especially on the Hillsborough side, which is near Tampa International Airport makes accessing either end a challenge, Hansbury said. "To get to the bridge is a bit trying," he said. Accessibility issues might also mean the bridge would be almost strictly a recreational trail rarely used by those who commute by bike. The entire project, including the $14.6 million bridge, is being paid with federal money. "This is money that is restricted for enhancement projects, including trails," said Clearwater City Councilman Bill Jonson, who chairs the committee that oversees the project. "We're not using money that could have gone toward the HART express lines or widening I-275." The stretch of State Road 60 that consists of the causeway was designated a scenic corridor in 2005, something for which Jonson had pushed for years. Jonson said he never thought he'd see a pedestrian bridge built in his lifetime. "I can't help but smile all the way across the causeway every time I drive it now," he said.
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