Can't even give it away - FOX 13 News

Can't even give it away

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Pinellas County wants to relinquish its half ownership of the Friendship Trail Bridge, but the owner of the other half, Hillsborough County, doesn't want it.

Supporters of the now-closed span across Tampa Bay wish it were otherwise.

"In all ways, it's easier," said Tampa architect Ken Cowart, who is part of a citizens' movement to save the Friendship Trail. "Anytime you have one owner versus two owners, or three or four it becomes a lot easier."

In 1999, the old part of the Gandy Bridge took on the friendlier label and became a popular, 2.6 mile long linear park for bikers, fishermen and cyclists. The state of Florida had conveyed ownership to the two counties, which counted on donations to pay for maintenance expenses.

However, the bridge was more popular than the tip bucket, neither county could afford the upkeep, and plans were made to demolish it.

Then last summer, the citizens' group convinced Hillsborough commissioners to delay a scheduled demolition and explore privatizing the recreational activities.

"It's got a lot of assumptions, a lot of issues that just need to be resolved," Hillsborough administrator Michael Merrill pointed out. "Namely, first of all, is there anybody in the world who's interested in doing something like this?"

Next week, Pinellas commissioners will vote on offering its ownership interest to Hillsborough.

"Pinellas County does not have an interest in continuing to participate in any rehabilitation of the bridge," Pinellas administrator Bob LaSala told FOX 13 News.

Any rehab is expected to cost no less than $20 to $30 million.

"We don't have that kind of money," LaSala said. "It certainly would be a nice thing to do, but we just have other priorities."

Merrill understands: he and his staff recommended demolition. However, Friday afternoon he told LaSala Hillsborough isn't quite ready to deal.

"We're not ready to accept the transfer of the bridge, even though they're graciously going to give it to us at this point, until my board determines what are we going to do with the bridge," Merrill said.

That will take at least another six months. Like LaSala, Merrill does not want his county assuming all the liability and operating costs of owning an unused bridge.

Advocates will continue to focus political pressure on Hillsborough commissioners.

"I get phone calls and emails daily asking what's going on what's going on," Cowart said. "The interest is still very high."

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