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Celebration welcomes a lifeline

Ten years in the making, the causeway bridge will have its day.

By NICK JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published August 19, 2007

A view to the west on Thursday shows the new Treasure Island Causeway Bridge. The bridge has its official grand opening in a ceremony on Saturday morning that is scheduled to run from 9 to noon.
[Scott Keeler | Times]

After years of closures due to construction, the Treasure Island causeway drawbridge will be shut down again next weekend, this time for a celebration.

The official grand opening and ribbon-cutting celebration of the Treasure Island C.W. "Bill" Young Bascule Bridge will take place this Saturday at 9 a.m.

The bridge will be closed to traffic for the celebration, which is scheduled to wrap up around noon.

U.S. Rep. Young will attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony on a bridge that he helped secure a $50-million grant for and that has subsequently been named in his honor.

There will be a number of other speakers, including Treasure Island Public Works Director Don Hambidge, who has managed the project for the past five years, and the possibility of an appearance by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The bridge opening will hold great significance for the city of Treasure Island since it serves as both the main evacuation route in the event of a hurricane and the economic lifeline for tourism.

The bridge is an important tie to the mainland that Hambidge said was in dire need of being replaced.

"The bridge in Minnesota that just collapsed, it had a sufficiency rating of 50. When I got here in 2000, the bascule bridge had a sufficiency rating of 3.3 and it went down to a 2," he said.

Young will have a plaque dedicated to him in thanks for his support of the project, and he will get a chance to open the state-of-the-art drawbridge for a boat parade sponsored by the Treasure Island Yacht Club.

The grand opening will mark the end of about 10 years of planning, design and construction on the main bascule bridge, or drawbridge, and the two shorter spans on either end of the Treasure Island Causeway.

The shorter bridges were completed first to allow construction material to be transported to the new drawbridge, which is four lanes instead of two and a full 16 feet higher above mean high water level than its predecessor.

The increased height will allow a larger range of boats to pass under the bridge without raising the center span.

"At high tide if you were in anything other than a raft, we had to open the bridge for you," Hambidge said of the old bascule bridge. The improvement is expected to take the average number of openings from 33 a day to about 11.

The bridge opening will also mark the end of tolls on the causeway. The city had to give up about $1.2-million a year in toll collections as part of the deal for complete federal funding of the project.

There will be street parking on both sides of the causeway for anyone interested in attending. A detailed schedule of the event is available at

Nick Johnson can be reached at or 893-8361.

Facts and Figures

Treasure Island Causeway Bridge

1.8 miles: Length of the bridge system, including the two approach bridges

The price: $67-million, including a $50-million federal grant for the drawbridge and a $7.2-million state grant for the approach bridges.

100 feet: The opening between the fenders of the new drawbridge. The old bridge opening: 82 feet.

Weight of each half of the drawbridge: More than 1-million pounds. The bridge opens like a seesaw and is controlled by four cylinders, two on each side to raise the bridge and two to lower the spans. The drawbridge can be operated by one cylinder on each side if necessary.

The bridge is controlled by a computer system built by Siemens in Belgium. Every system has a backup in case of a computer failure. A generator was installed last week in case of a total power failure.

1939 When the original toll bridge opened that year, the toll was 10 cents for cars, 20 cents for heavy trucks with a driver and a helper, 20 cents for light trucks and trailers, 40 cents for heavy trucks with trailers, and 10 cents for each horse or team of horses. Pedestrians, bicycles and cattle were not allowed.

The original Treasure Island Causeway Bridge was built by Hillyer & Lovan of Jacksonville for $1.05-million. The construction was financed after 20 of the city's 24 registered voters cast ballots in favor of a bond referendum. It took less than a year to complete the project.

It took about one minute to open the old bridge. The new bridge will take the same amount of time. It will open on demand for the first year.

[Last modified August 18, 2007, 22:25:39]

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