TAMPA - After five months of repairs and renovations, the Columbus Drive bridge in West Tampa reopened Tuesday afternoon, just in time for the afternoon rush-hour.
it is one of two bridges in the city of Tampa operated and maintained by Hillsborough County, and the 86-year-old bob-tail swing mechanism isn't exactly state of the art.
So when engineers figured that the proposed four months worth of repairs to the Columbus Drive bridge over the Hillsborough River would take longer than planned, Steve Valdez had to answer a lot of questions.
"We're about two months longer than we had anticipated for the closure," the County Spokesman for Public works projects told me this afternoon. "And that's due to the fact that we ran into some unforeseen conditions, much like you'd have when you're rehabbing an old house."
Two deadlines have come and gone, and today's targeted noon opening was also postponed because of last minute tweaking and testing. But we were assured that it was a go for today's afternoon rush hour.
"You're hoping that this is going to mean good things?" I asked Ken Brackins, owner of "Ricks on the River," a popular destination dockside bar on the weekends that has been suffering a lunch-time let down of business, thanks to the cut link between West Tampa and downtown. "We're hoping the word gets out quick so that people know that they can get over here in a timely fashion."
Ken told me that he's taken an estimated 40% hit to his mid-week mid-day bottom line because of the delays upstream. He told me he's ready to throw a bridge opening party. Actually, he has been for awhile.
"Well," he said grinning, "we're going to wait and make sure that the bridge is actually going to be open before we announce the time of the party."
That opening came with the first few cars across shortly after three this afternoon… in the midst of the construction zone that will remain for a week or two. It's a positive sign for Ken and his neighbors and the 20 thousand plus who cross this bridge every day. Numbers that may just swell, when the county's other bridge on Platt Street, gets closed next month.
"More traffic's actually going to be routed onto it in the next few weeks with the closures of downtown," said the County's Valdez. "They might actually increase their business."
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
UPDATE: The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, was a top-of-the-scale EF-5 twister with winds of at least 200 mph.