The Howard Frankland Bridge is getting a makeover, and a Tampa think tank is petitioning to save its oldest stretches for an eco-friendly reboot.
Right now, barges stationed north of the three-mile Tampa/St. Pete traffic connector are laying the foundation for a new stretch of bridge that will replace the current southbound lanes.
The new stretch will have eight lanes, including two express options and a bicycle trail, while the current southbound bridge will switch directions to become northbound. The former northbound bridge will be demolished due to age.
But Neil Cosentino, director of Camelot Florida, thinks the money it would take to demolish the aging lanes would be better spent converting them to a solar panel farm.
“It makes a lot of sense to use what you have,” Cosentino told the Catalyst.
The idea, nicknamed the Clean Millenium Bridge project, is one way Cosentino thinks Tampa Bay can lead in making the next millennium cleaner and more efficient than the last. Cosentino says he floated the idea in Washington D.C., but had little success. Now, he doesn’t care who picks up the project; he just wants it done, because it’s an opportunity for Tampa Bay to “have something iconic.”
According to Florida Department of Transportation Spokesperson Kris Carson, the northbound bridge’s scheduled demolition is due to age, and there are currently no talks within the department to preserve it. Carson was not immediately available to speak on the solar farm idea’s viability.
But FDOT has been gathering public input to include green elements in the new bridge. According to Tampa Bay Next, a wing of the transportation department that sought public input on the reconstruction project, the new Howard Frankland could have the potential to accommodate light rail and autonomous vehicles in the future.
Though Camelot Florida may be the only voices working to save old stretches of the Howard Frankland, it wouldn’t be the first time an older bridge has been repurposed in Tampa Bay.
Cosentino’s proposed solar project mirrors preservation efforts of the Howard Frankland’s southern neighbor, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which had parts of its older sections converted into a state fishing park after a freighter struck and destroyed its center section in 1980.
The think-tank director also discussed putting rainwater treatment facilities on the old bridge, and even adding solar-fueled businesses underneath to create a beefed-up version of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, where vendors have created a tourism-fueled community on the historic monument.
Whatever the final outcome, Cosentino says he’s determined to see it through. “I’m gonna try my darndest to make this thing happen,” he said.