Today in Transportation History – 1983: Peace Out! The Third Bridge To Span The River Opens

In southwestern Florida, a new mile (1.6-kilometer)-long bridge across the Peace River in Charlotte County made its formal debut. More than six decades earlier, the first bridge spanning that section of the river had been opened. This original structure, located just east of the current bridge, connected Live Oak Point on the river’s north bank with Nesbit Street in the city of Punta Gorda on the south bank. This structure was called the Charlotte Harbor Bridge after the Charlotte Harbor estuary that borders Punta Gorda and into which the Peace River flows.

The Charlotte Harbor Bridge was opened in that region of Florida in 1921 to accommodate the vehicular traffic that was expected to travel on the highway known as the Tamiami Trail starting later in the decade. The Tamiami Trail, which encompasses the southernmost 275 miles (443 kilometers) of U.S. Route 41, was opened in 1928. The Charlotte Harbor Bridge was a part of that highway, but It quickly became evident that the bridge could not adequately meet the needs of motorists driving across the Peace River. Among other things, the lanes on the bridge turned out to be too narrow for a large number of vehicles; motorists often needed to swerve over and stop to allow those coming from the other direction to safely make their way across.

Construction on a nearby replacement bridge to carry the Tamiami Trail across the river, and link Punta Gorda with the community of Port Charlotte, began in 1929. This replacement bridge was opened to a great deal of fanfare on Independence Day in 1931, and it featured a drawbridge span to allow for the passage of large vessels sailing on the Peace River. A huge proponent of building this new bridge was the high-energy businessman Barron Collier (1873-1939), one of the era’s leading landowners and developers in Florida. Collier’s vast array of enterprises in the Sunshine State included the Hotel Charlotte Harbor. The new bridge was named the Barron Collier Bridge in honor of him.

With the opening of the Barron Collier Bridge, the Charlotte Harbor Bridge was closed to traffic. In 1976, the Albert W. Gilchrist Bridge (named in memory of a one-time Florida governor and Punta Gorda resident) was opened near the Barron Collier Bridge. Southbound traffic was rerouted to the two-lane Gilchrist Bridge, and both lanes of the Barron Collier Bridge started carrying only northbound traffic. Within just about four years, however, a new and more elevated version of the Barron Collier Bridge was built to match the 45-foot (13.7-meter)-tall Gilchrist Bridge in height and therefore eliminate any further need for a drawbridge.

The opening ceremony for the current Barron Collier Bridge on January 12, 1983, started out on the south end of the structure in Punta Gorda. Those taking part in the festivities included Thomas Lewis, deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, and various other public officials. After a ribbon was cut for the bridge, these officials traveled in a motorcade across the new structure. Others on hand for this Wednesday ceremony included 62-year-old Port Charlotte resident Jay C. Alverez, who had also attended the 1931 inaugural event for the original Barron Collier Bridge. “I never thought I would outlast the two-lane drawbridge,” he said in an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

For more information on the current Barron Collier Bridge and its predecessors, please check out  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barron_Collier_Bridge.

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