A look back: Dames Point Bridge celebrates 30 years

Iconic cable-stayed bridge wasn't a popular idea at first

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Monday marked the 30th anniversary of Jacksonville's Dames Point Bridge that connects Arlington to the Northside.

A ceremony was held Monday at El Faro Memorial Park to celebrate the anniversary of the bridge, which has made major contributions to the city's economy but wasn't a necessarily a popular idea at first. 

The iconic cabled-stay bridge, located along the east beltway of Interstate 295, is known for its harp-style design. Twenty-one miles of cable make up the bridge standing tall over the St. Johns River. Construction began in 1985, but had been in the talks for about 30 years.

Though the Dames Point Bridge seems like a necessity now, it wasn't always viewed that way. In the 1980s, it was nicknamed "Bridge to Nowhere."

"When Mr. Lanahan introduced me to the board, he mentioned, 'Mr. Wehner, I hope you brought your asbestos underwear. It's going to get hot,'" recounted Larry Wehner, project manager for the Dames Point Bridge.

Hot meaning a lot of opposition from people living in the area. At the time, there wasn't much on the Northside, but Jacksonville Transportation Authority board members were building for the 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. 

The Dames Point Bridge finally opened in 1989 as the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge, named after a Jacksonville native who served as Florida's governor in the early 1900s. What many people don't know is that the $117 million bridge was built without any state or federal funding.

About two months later, there was a major scare. Inspectors were checking the bridge for cracks when the boom arm holding the bucket they were in snapped. One worker was left dangling hundreds of feet above the river, but rescue crews were able to bring all the workers to safety. 

Today, the Dames Point Bridge serves more than 75,000 vehicles, bringing accessibility to the Jacksonville Port Authority, the Jacksonville International Airport, neighborhoods and shopping centers.