Project to repair pedestrian walkway next to Midnight Pass Road bridge on Siesta Key leads to history lesson

Siesta Key Association learns about connection between former Air Force officer and the structure

(Editor’s note: This article was updated the morning of Aug. 18 to correct a mistake in the date range for the project.)

This aerial map shows the Midnight Pass Road bridge over the Grand Canal .

On July 28, Sarasota County Communications Department staff asked the news media for help in letting the public know about a project that was scheduled for July 31 through Aug. 4 on Siesta Key.

In her email, Media Relations Officer Sara Nealeigh explained that the timber walkway attached to the Midnight Pass Road bridge over the Grand Canal on Siesta Key, and the sidewalk leading up to the bridge, would be closed for repairs to be undertaken by Sarasota County Public Works Department crews.

Pedestrians were encouraged to find alternative routes while the work was underway, she added. Vehicular traffic across the bridge would not be restricted, Nealeigh noted.

In addition, she wrote, crews would be inspecting the timber walkway from a boat in the canal from Aug. 7 through Aug. 11. “Vessel traffic will be granted passage under the bridge but may be delayed by inspection activities,” she pointed out. Neither pedestrians nor vehicular traffic would not be affected by that aspect of the initiative, she added.

The plans for that project ended up resulting in a history lesson for both Siesta Key residents and county staff, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

The bridge is south of the Higel Avenue intersection with Midnight Pass Road and north of the Commonwealth Drive intersection with Midnight Pass Road.

This photo shows one problem area on the walkway next to the bridge that necessitated repairs. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On July 20, Donald DeBerry, senior transportation manager in Public Works, had sent an email to Robert Luckner, acting treasurer of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), explaining that staff was looking at options because the walkway was “in need of repair/replacement.”

DeBerry further noted, “The placard on the bridge indicates it was constructed by SKA. Given that,” he continued, “I wanted to reach out to you prior to us acting independently on the structure. Let me know if your group had or has any ongoing involvement with the structure please!”

(Luckner shared that email and others with the News Leader.)

On July 31, Luckner — whose wife, Catherine, is president of the SKA, responded to DeBerry: “Thanks for asking SKA. We are still checking our records and older officers. But I can tell you that SKA supports the foot and bike bridge that allows [members of the public] to avoid auto traffic and would like to see it returned to good repair.”

On Aug. 1, Spencer Anderson, director of Public Works, emailed Robert Luckner, noting that he and his staff were trying to determine how the walkway ended up being constructed, “because we cannot find any permits. This bridge and pedestrian walkway are the county’s,” Anderson continued. “Ultimately [the walkway] needs to be replaced.”

Subsequently, Luckner told the News Leader, Catherine Luckner had learned some details about the bridge that she previously had not known: The walkway was dedicated to a former SKA director, Robert Webb Tribolet.

Robert Luckner sent the News Leader a copy of the document Catherine had located.

This is the placard that county staff found on the walkway. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Tribolet, who graduated from the United States Military Academy with the Class of 1946, ended up reaching the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force, his obituary said. He died on Jan. 25, 1989 in Sarasota at the age of 63, the obituary added. His body was interred “with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery” in Virginia, the obituary noted.

A graduate of Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, the obituary continued, Tribolet “had his heart set on getting into West Point; however, his appointment by Senator Brewster did not come through as expected.”

Having to wait a full year before trying again to get an appointment, the obituary explained, “Trib,” as he was known, “decided to enroll at Texas A&M, thereby gaining more military school experience. This turned out to be a disaster and after missing some exams, he was placed on academic probation.”

Robert Webb Triolet from the Find a Grave website

Tribolet ended up volunteering for the draft in May 1943 and was told to report on May 16, the obituary continued. Then he was notified that he had been accepted at West Point and was to report on July 1, 1943.

During the same time, Tribolet’s father “was in the middle of the war on the Normandy beachhead. The father did survive,” the obituary said, “but naturally Trib was greatly distracted and unable to place full concentration on the demanding curriculum at West Point. Trib would readily admit that the main reason he chose to take flying as a cadet was to avoid the last few months of the year of mathematics. This decision was never regretted because he came to dearly love being a pilot in the US Air Force.”

When the Korean War broke out, the obituary said, Tribolet was at Clark Field in the Philippines. He “soon found himself as a wing maintenance officer in Tachikawa, Japan,” and he later served as an intelligence officer in Korea, the obituary added.

In the 1960s, having qualified to fly jets and having become an instructor pilot in T-33s and T-38s, he and his family spent three years in Buenos Aires, where he was an Air Force Mission training adviser to the Argentine Air Force.

Later, he ended up flying 250 night combat missions during the Vietnam War, the obituary continued.

In October 1968, he was assigned to the Pentagon, where he served for four years in various departments, including the Europe NATO Branch and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Department, the obituary pointed out.

He retired from active duty on July 1, 1972, following 26 years in the Air Force, and he and his family moved to Siesta Key.

On the Key, he engaged in “lots of community work,” the obituary noted. In fact, it said, he developed the disaster and the evacuation plan for Sarasota County.

Repairs completed

This photo in the KCA report to the Public Works staff shows one issue that remains to be addressed with the walkway. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Aug. 7, in the aftermath of that history lesson, James Stock, transportation structures engineer in Public Works, emailed Anderson, the Public Works director, to report that several deck planks and railing boards had been replaced on the Midnight Pass Road bridge walkway.

Representatives of an engineering firm that had worked with the county on the project had inspected the bridge, Stock continued. As of that day, he pointed out, with some emphasis, that only minor concerns remained “and the general consensus is that the walkway is structurally sound to remain in service to pedestrians.”

That engineering firm — Kisinger Camp & Associates (KCA) of Tampa — provided a formal reported to Stock on Aug. 9, as the News Leader learned through a public records request.

Scott Betz, a professional engineer and project manager for KCA, explained in the letter that the walkway “consists of cantilevered timber support beams, carrying three timber joists, supporting a timber deck (walking surface) and a single timber pedestrian handrail on the east side of the structure. The specific timber species is unknown; however, Mixed Southern Pine is assumed based on visual inspection. The walkway is separated from the [State Road 758] roadway by the eastern concrete post and beam traffic railing of Bridge No. 170059 [over the Grand Canal].”

After providing detailed accounts of the repairs to the walkway, Betz wrote that the results of the company’s visual inspection following the work indicated “that the walkway remains capable of supporting pedestrian foot traffic.” However, he cautioned, “No vehicular traffic should be allowed to traverse the walkway.”

Then he noted, “It is KCA’s understanding that the County desires to replace the walkway with a pedestrian structure not consisting of timber. This may involve the installation of a prefabricated pedestrian truss or other superstructure type bridge to the east of Bridge No. 170059. “

Betz recommended that county staff address several issues “until a replacement structure can be designed and installed.” Among them, were the following:

  • “Replace all handrail post connection hardware at the handrail brace and support beam connections.
  • “Replace handrail posts with splits at the handrail brace and/or support beam connection hardware.
  • “Replace timber rails with splitting at the hardware connections to the handrail posts.
  • “Replace the northern 4 [feet] of the Span 3 timber rails to match the rail spacing throughout the bridge.”

2 thoughts on “Project to repair pedestrian walkway next to Midnight Pass Road bridge on Siesta Key leads to history lesson”

  1. I remember an incident on this bridge involving a small industrial type piece of equipment that either fell into the canal below or caused part of the wooden footbridge to fall into the canal. I’m not sure of the year, but there was a photo in a newspaper that can be researched. I lived on Commonwealth Dr from 2005-2019.

  2. Thanks for the interesting report. Great response by Sarasota County govt and fun history report.

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