Rehab project continues on 85-year-old swing bridge

This article appeared in the April issue of Waterfront News.

Swing Bridge

Driving along Davie or Broward Boulevards these days, you might notice signs announcing the Southwest 11th Ave bridge closure. After 85 years, city engineers are in the process of refitting the 1925 steel pony truss bridge. Plans call for the replacement of damaged structural steel, new railings, grating, mechanical and electrical systems, a new fender, control house and repaired bulkheads, according to Dane Esdelle, project manager for the City of Fort Lauderdale.

“The bridge has always been way too narrow, but I didn’t necessarily notice anything rickety about her,” said Charlie Read, an editor of the Riverside Park Residents’ Association newsletter. “But I trust that they know what they are doing.” The historical tender house will remain, with a second modern one constructed behind it. Both will be located on the north side of the bridge in the Sailboat Bend neighborhood. In July 2008, a deep draft boat finally prompted the city to rehabilitate the bridge. “A boat with excess draft caught the cable under the bridge and pulled the electrical control box off the bridge,” said Dave Marshall who lives in eastern Riverside near the bridge. Officials had allocated funds for the rehabilitation project in the early 2000s.

While the bridge may not be on your daily commute, for residents of the Riverside and Sailboat Bend areas, the closure affects traffic patterns. “It adds about two miles to my commute north,” Marshall said. At least three earlier structures spanned the North Fork of the New River. In the mid 20th century, local resident Sigurd Dillevig recalled sitting on a piling on Southwest Ninth Avenue that once supported a wooden bridge. “Dillevig used to sit on it and shoot alligators,” wrote reporter Wesley W. Stout in an article appearing in the Fort Lauderdale Daily News on Dec.15, 1954. Later the bridge moved downriver to Southwest 12th Avenue where local Bert Lasher operated an alligator wrestling and Seminole Indian tourist attraction. In 1916, the city replaced the Andrews Avenue bridge, and Riverside residents asked if they could use the old bridge. So they reinstalled the old Andrews swing bridge as the first 11th Avenue swing bridge. “The bridge was a single lane and its bed was most likely made of planking supported by girders,” said Bob Hathaway, a local historian. “She was only there for 10 years.” Due to old age, in 1924 the city decided to replace her with a brand new bridge. In 1925, Champion Bridge Co. finished the installation. Urban legend said the replacement was a used bridge from South America. “Subsequently I learned that wasn’t true,” Hathaway said. “It was a brand new bridge.”

The bridge underwent numerous improvements in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s while arguments ensued about replacing the structure. In 1989 the city gave it a historic designation under its historic preservation ordinance. Sonny Irons, a Riverside resident since the early 1980s, has been on the front lines of these debates. In 1994 he proposed to tear the bridge down to deter cut-through traffic. “It’s in need of being removed and sand blasted…someday it’s got to go,” he was quoted in a Sun-Sentinel story on Oct.15, 1994. In this current project, “removal was not considered but a temporary shutdown was necessary to accommodate restoration,” Esdelle says. The yearlong project started last August is projected to be completed in mid August of this year.

Up close:
• The Eleventh Avenue Bridge is the only bridge in Fort Lauderdale operated by the city.
• It’s considered the only operational swing bridge left in Southeast Florida.
• It opens on demand 24 hours a day.

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