Tuesday evening's city commission discussion about what to do with Beckett Bridge came down to three variables: cost effectiveness, preservation and functionality.
Pinellas County's project development and environmental study, presented to the city commission, touched on all those perspectives.
Tuesday's presentation ended the local government coordination portion of the project. Next up is a public workshop that will further examine the alternatives. It will be held Jan. 23 at the Tarpon Springs Yacht Club, which is adjacent to the bridge.
The preferred alternative for dealing with the bridge must selected no later than March 2013.
The drawbridge, which links Spring Boulevard and Riverside Drive across Whitcomb Bayou, is nearly 90 years old and therefore eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It also lies along a densely traversed section of roadway between the city's eastern and western sides.
"This bridge affects our entire community," said Commissioner Susan Slattery. "It's heavily used and it's going to be a big decision."
"Beckett Bridge connects one of our busiest streets and it's an evacuation route, so it's very important to us," Commissioner Chris Alahouzos said.
Beckett Bridge, named after former Pinellas County Commissioner E. H. Beckett, originally opened for traffic in 1924 as a wooden structure. The drawbridge, which is owned and operated by the county, was then rebuilt with concrete in 1956 and underwent subsequent repairs in 1979, 1998 and 2011.
On the other hand, county and private inspectors deem the bridge functionally obsolete and rife with structural concerns that must be addressed. Between 2009 and 2011 the drawbridge was raised only 48 times.
Among other negatives, the bridge's two vehicle lanes are narrow and there are no shoulders or bicycle lanes. Its sidewalks are also too narrow and don't comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The latest county study, which began this past January, is part of a process required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 for listing possible project alternatives. Those include a no-build option, no-build with permanent removal of the bridge, rehabilitating the bridge and two options under which the bridge would be replaced at its current location. The two replacement designs are a low-level drawbridge or a midlevel fixed bridge.
If the county decides to do nothing, Beckett Bridge would only be serviceable for another 10 years and the eventual costs of removal would be about $900,000.
Rehabilitating it would extend the service life by 25 to 30 years but and would involve extensive repairs that would do nothing to widen the bridge or change waterway navigational clearances. Related costs are estimated at $9.3 million.
Creating difficulties with the replacement alternatives are the tight corridors of the project area, which stretches from Chesapeake Drive to the west and Forest Avenue to the east. There is only 50 feet of right of way east and 40 feet west of the bridge.
Replacement would result in a number of properties and driveways being affected, including the yacht club, nearby single-family residences and the Bayshore Mobile Home Park.
The midlevel structure would leave 28 feet of vertical clearance for vessels. Ann Venables, PD&E manager for Tampa-based engineering firm EC Driver and Associates said during her presentation that the U.S. Coast Guard has already expressed reservations with such a fixed height. The Coast Guard could reject any decision by the county, Venables said.
Replacing the bridge with a low-level drawbridge is estimated to cost $16 million. The mid-level fixed structure would cost some $7.6 million.
Because of the bridge's current designation as being functionally obsolete, the county would be eligible for federal replacement funds. Beckett Bridge received a Sufficiency Rating of 44.9 out of 100. Any span below 50 is eligible for the federal funding.