Bridge of Lions Opens to Traffic
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Apr. 1, 2010
Once slated for demolition, Florida's most elegant bridge reopened last month after an $80 million rehabilitation.
About 500 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Mar. 17 to celebrate the return of the 1927 drawbridge.
"It made me feel so good to be around all these people who were so excited about the bridge," says Theresa Segal, president of Save Our Bridge, founded in 1999. "It was like a dream."
In the late 1990s, the bridge's future was in question. After the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed replacing the two-lane bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named it to its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Placesin 1997. A year later, citizens formed Save Our Bridge, which challenged the demolition.
"The volunteers' effort to save the bridge is really kind of a model," says Jonathan Poston, regional director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Office, based in Charleston, S.C. "They were definitely dogged in pursuing the saving of the bridge, but they did it in a very professional way. They stuck to the facts, made convincing arguments, and won over officials at the state and local levels."
Thanks in part to Save Our Bridge, in October 2003 the Florida DOT announced that it would rehabilitate the Bridge of Lions. Work began in earnest in May 2006 on the superstructure, piers, and abutments. Workers also repainted the bridge its original green. Although traffic is allowed over the bridge, it's still a construction site, with work scheduled to be completed later this year.
The bridge's two Carrara marble lion statues, which are replicas of the ones on a bridge in Florence, Italy, are still being restored and will be reinstalled next year.
Despite some traffic delays caused by ongoing roadwork and an electrical malfunction (since repaired), "People seem to be very pleased with the appearance of the bridge," says bridge spokewoman Laurie Sanderson. "Now that we've replaced those 1970s lights and railings, it looks more like it did in 1927, in all its grandeur."
Leslee Keys, vice president of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and a St. Augustine resident, says locals are enjoying crossing the 1,545-foot-long span once again. "People run the bridge; they walk it … it's a breathtaking view from downtown," Keys says. "It's a wonderful success story."
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