Jacksonville, FL (March 11, 2019) – Jacksonville Transportation Authority and multiple city leaders celebrated the Dames Point Bridge’s 30th Anniversary on Monday, March 11th. JTA hosted an event to recognize the tremendous impact the bridge has made on the City of Jacksonville. It took place at the El Faro Memorial Park, which is located directly under the north end of the Dames Point and offers a clear view of the iconic bridge.
The bridge as officially named the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge, in honor of the Jacksonville native who was Florida’s governor from 1905 to 1909 but commonly referred to as the “Bridge to Nowhere” in the 1980’s. Back then, the public didn’t see a need for the bridge and criticized the project, but little did they know. The bridge over the years has opened the door for major economic growth and prosperity to communities unrelated at the time. The Dames Point Bridge stands 175 feet high, 10,600 feet long and is made up of 21 miles of cable, making it one of the largest cable-stayed bridges in the country.
The Dames Point Bridge stretches over the St. Johns River on the I-295 East Beltway and plays a very important role in Jacksonville’s transportation network, as well as, helping serve over 75,000 vehicles each day. The bridge has opened the door to community development and major industry growth, like the Jacksonville International Airport and Port Authority.
“The Dames Point Bridge has connected communities that prior to its existence were worlds apart, separated by this huge river”, Councilman Becton commented. “This gateway has spawned economic growth and job opportunities that did not exist prior to its construction and has allowed neighborhoods to benefit as a result.”
Councilman Becton attended the anniversary ceremony, along with fellow Council Member’s Al Ferraro and Greg Anderson. JTA’S CEO, Nat Ford, and the Chairman for JTA’s Board of Directors, Kevin Holzendorf, spoke during the presentation portion of the event recognizing the achievements made in order for this Bridge to become a reality.
“It’s was great to hear, those stories about this bridge and how it was decided to be built and what took place in order to make that happen for the contractors and leaders of our community at that time”. Councilman Becton noted. “Many of those leaders and decision makers are still around today and were in attendance which certainly added to the momentous occasion”.
Both touched on the history of the bridge, dating back to the 1950’s when plans were first introduced and obstacles overcome for the JTA board to make it happen as construction begin in 1985 at a cost of approximately $117 million dollars which would be well over $450 million in today’s costs.
In a News4Jax interview, Ford talked about the opposition from the public and explained the JTA Board of Directors’ plans involved more than just building a bridge, but a future.
“Just having that vision and the courage to move forward and be a visionary and see that this connectivity — connecting Arlington with the beaches — was critical to our economic development,” said Nathaniel Ford, CEO of JTA.
“This link within our city turned two communities into neighbor partners that prior to this construction had little in common”, CM Becton stated. “The Northside over night was connected to a well-established part of Jacksonville, Arlington that had many benefits for Northside residents including shopping, retail services and jobs that prior to its construction did not exist”. Becton noted, “As for the Southside, the bridge benefited and sparked new growth opportunities by the same matrix of facts as new areas to the north were now accessible to the southern part of the county too. Do you think that the Town Center at JTB / I-295 would be as successful as it’s become if this bridge was not there? CM Becton asked. “This bridge also enhanced the quality of life by connecting the Southside to places like Amelia Island, Fernandina and recreational destination as to Huguenot Park and Big Talbot Island State Park to name a few”, Councilman Becton pointed out. “This bridge can be considered a major successful accomplishment of a past generation that has impacted Jacksonville for many years and many years to come”, Becton expressed.
Excerpts from a Jacksonville.com story from 10 years ago of the 20th Anniversary stated:
“We finished under budget and we didn’t kill anybody,” said Wehner, who still works for JTA (10 years ago). “We were supposed to finish in July 1988, so I guess two out of three isn’t bad.” But if some people had their way, the bridge might not have been built at all. Politicians and the public derided it as a bridge to nowhere.
At the time, many people didn’t see the need. Plans to build the bridge had been on the table since the 1950’s. JTA accepted bids to build the bridge in 1979, before a bad bond market caused construction to be indefinitely delayed. “There were a number of times that I was very despondent about ever getting the bridge built,” said Bill Birchfield, a Jacksonville lawyer who advocated for it as a JTA member and later on the Jacksonville Port Authority. “But we kept plugging away and got it done.” Wehner said the key to getting the project moving was the 1983 decision by Gov. Bob Graham to appoint John Lanahan to the JTA board.
Lanahan, who died in 2004, was a colorful former City Council president who became an outspoken bridge supporter. Throughout his tenure on the JTA board, Lanahan served as a lightning rod, generating and responding to intense criticism from people who opposed the bridge. That criticism didn’t matter to Graham. As governor, he was aware of projections that massive growth would be coming to Florida in the next 10 to 20 years. It was clear, he said last week, that the bridge would be needed to handle that growth in the Jacksonville area. One decision that was made before construction began was to build the bridge 175 feet above the water. The original design had the bridge at 160 feet, and the extra height added several million dollars to the project. Without that change, many of the ships that now go to the port wouldn’t be able to fit under the bridge. At the time, some people didn’t think it was high enough.
Community activist Marvin Edwards was one of the critics of the project before and during construction. Edwards said he was never against building the bridge but believed it should have been higher, up to 190 feet. Edwards said the recent controversy over whether a cruise ship terminal should move to Mayport – because larger ships couldn’t fit under the bridge – was a vindication for him. Still, even at 190 feet it wouldn’t have been high enough for the newest, largest cruise ships that are more than 200 feet tall. For years, members of the construction crew would get together for a picnic under the bridge in early March. But this year, Wehner said, they’ll all come to the 20th anniversary celebration instead.