SEBRING — The Vaughn Road bridge will finally get new stringers and a deck to replace the rotted, bleached planks that kept it closed for years.
County commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday — with Commissioner Ron Handley dissenting — to split the $75,000 cost of repairing the bridge with the Florida Park Service.
The cost may not exceed $40,000 and the funds, as proposed by Commissioner Don Elwell, will come out of the current year budget — 2017-18 — from Fund 4102, which supports the Road and Bridge Department with local option gasoline taxes.
Commissioners said they plan to vacate Vaughn Road in the future, once the bridge is repaired.
Park Service officials have said it would be used mostly for equestrian crossings, said County Administrator Randy Vosburg.
However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also wants the bridge repaired so their law enforcement officers can conduct patrols and other operations into Hardee County without having to back-track to main roads.
Handley still didn’t like the idea.
“Even when the water is high, a horse can still cross without a bridge,” Handley said. “I think it’s not where we need to spend our money.”
The initial request was for the entire cost of repair, followed by vacating the road.
“I don’t see a benefit for our taxpayers,” Handley said.
When Commissioner Jack Richie asked if it’s possible to make a crossing on horseback, Handley repeated that they could.
“Let them take a bath,” Handley said, though it was not certain if he meant the horses or the Park Service, for the cost of the bridge.
Kyle Green, Road and Bridge director, said he’d had several conversations with Park Service officials about solutions.
Green said Vaughn Road is still on the Florida Department of Transportation inventory, which is why it’s fenced off with “closed” signs.
“If it’s open to any kind of traffic, we have to repair it,” Green said. “Otherwise, we can tear it out.”
But, he said, the Park Service and FWC want access to the Hardee County side of the creek. For that, the county would need to repair the bridge, or build a crossing.
He recommended repairing it, which at a minimum would cost the county $10,000.
Elwell said he didn’t think $30,000 in savings would be enough to upset the relationship between the county and the two state agencies.
Richie wavered back and forth on keeping or losing the bridge, especially given a difference of $30,000, but wanted to maintain a good relationship with the Park Service, given he’d served on the citizen advisory board for Highlands Hammock State Park.
“I think we need to put this behind us,” Commission Chair Greg Harris said. “I think we need to repair the bridge and vacate the easement.”
Elwell made his motion. When he asked for a second, Harris passed the gavel to Elwell and seconded it.
Commissioner Jim Brooks was absent Tuesday.