CLEARWATER - The pedestrian underpass at the west end of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway that was closed in March because of concerns about its structural integrity has been reopened.
Originally installed under the small Mandalay Channel bridge in 1999 as part of the Roundabout project, the underpass provides a north/south pedestrian walkway on the east side of the roundabout, enhancing pedestrian safety and eliminating the traffic congestion that would have resulted from a street-level crosswalk.
In March, the city's engineering department had discovered that the structure was rusting, and contacted the manufacturer, Biltolast Products, Inc, to determine the extent of the problem and to examine the possibility of a warranty claim.
Glen Bahnick, Assistant Engineering Director for the city, explained the response from Biltolast: the warranty covered defects in material and workmanship for 15 years, but the corrosion was caused by exposure to a "severe environment". The underpass becoming submerged in salt-water during a hurricane in recent years likely caused the corrosion. According to Bahnick, the city is self-insured for this loss, so no insurance claim can be filed.
While the underpass has been deemed safe at this time, Bahnick said that continued rusting would make it unsafe in six months. The city had planned to demolish the structure and not replace it, but an outcry from the public caused a change in plans.
A replacement underpass is now being planned using materials more durable in a salt-water environment: stainless steel, aluminum or wood. In the absence of many details of the replacement's design, Bahnick guessed that its construction would cost in the range of $500-thousand, an amount close to the original price tag of the existing structure. According to Bahnick, a timetable for replacing the underpass has not yet been determined.