Residents celebrated the completion and opening of the west span of the Treasure Island Causeway in October after adverse weather conditions caused a four-week delay.
Hurricane Charley caused a major evacuation from the beaches, while rain and wind from Frances, Ivan and Jeanne delayed the paving of the two end spans. Consequently, crews were pulled from regular construction work to remove barricades and put up message boards each time a storm came through the area.
“It costs crew time to disassemble and reassemble barricades and cones each time we have a scare,” said Don Hambidge, professional engineer of Florida and director of public works for the city of Treasure Island. “Then, crews cannot pave on ground that is saturated.”
The openings of the two approach bridges at the west and east ends of the tri-span causeway were initially scheduled for early October. The west span, four lanes wide, is now open to all traffic and the east span at the edge of Park Street opened in late November. On both fixed ends the new bridges are in place. Crews are completing the paving, wiring and painting on the east end. As of press time, landscaping had yet to be completed. Cones are still up and it is one-lane traffic.
For the mid-span, the design has been accepted, permits are being allocated and a construction contract should be in place by January.
Anticipated finish date for both portions of the drawbridge is July 2008, with the north half completed in July 2006. Because the bridge is a major part of the evacuation route from the beaches and also an important route for tourist traffic, every effort is being made to keep it open.
“We are at the mercy of Mother Nature,” said Hambidge. “If we get a significant storm surge from a hurricane [these next three, years] we may have to close the mid-span. But so far it looks like the drawbridge will be able to remain open until it can be completed.
“The window of opportunity for closing the bridge is from March to June. To cut out the old sections will require three months with no traffic,” said Hambidge. “Because it is part of the evacuation route, the bridge needs to be operational during hurricane season from July to November. And of course November begins the height of tourist season.
“We will finish the bridge in two sections. The bascule-style bridge operates like a teeter-totter. At only five feet high, it now opens approximately 33 times a day. The new structure will be 21 feet tall and is anticipated to only have to be opened 11 times a day, giving a 67 percent reduction in waiting time for auto and boat traffic.”
Weight restriction will remain at 4 tons for the mid section and traffic is therefore being restricted to cars and open-bed pickups. It is likely that this weight restriction will continue until a new bridge can be constructed — approximately three years.
In the meantime, residents and tourists both will find the approach to the drawbridge much more accessible, and pedestrians will enjoy a much safer passage across the two end sections.