CLEARWATER — With some parts of Beckett Bridge dating back to 1924, it’s little surprise the Tarpon Springs span is badly corroded and cracked.
Trucks are warned not to use the bridge, which wobbles on the half-dozen or so times it opens for boats each year. Its 2-foot-wide sidewalk does not satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But some residents and leaders of Tarpon Springs fear they will lose a part of the city’s history and are wary of what could replace the picturesque span across Whitcomb Bayou.
County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a study that recommends a $16 million project to demolish the bridge and replace it with a new movable span. But they stressed no final decision will be made until after a public hearing on the project in February.
The study rejected other options, including keeping the bridge functional through ongoing maintenance, building a higher fixed bridge or rehabilitation of the existing bridge. Funding for the new bridge would come from the federal government.
Tarpon Springs City Manager Mark Lecouris and members of the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society were among those who expressed their concern this week about losing the bridge.
County Administrator Bob LaSala said the county will give residents ample opportunity to voice their opinions and will publicize the February meeting by mail and email.
“I think that addresses the concerns raised and puts us in a position to satisfy the community concerns,” he said.
As one of the oldest bridges in Florida, the Beckett Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That would not prevent it from being demolished, but the county would have to provide a permanent record of the existing bridge by archiving pictures and blueprints and create a nearby monument. One possible option would be to embed the bridge’s original gears and mechanisms in the guardrail.
Commissioner Norm Roche said safety has to be the chief concern. Roughly 800 cars cross the bridge each day.
“I think we could find some consensus in the community by explaining the safety features,” Roche said.