This article was featured in the May issue of Waterfront News. Jennifer Heit co-wrote the content.
What does a railroad bridge and an alligator have in common? Both are local icons that have sparked an idea to transform Riverwalk’s Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad bridge into a bright green alligator in honor of the city’s 100th birthday next year. To simulate the gator, the bridge would be wrapped in a 3M product similar to advertising displayed on buses and airplanes. Orange traffic cones would represent the gator’s teeth. “It’s complicated and challenging but it will be worth it,” said JoAnn Medalie, a member of the city’s Centennial Celebration Committee, assigned to identify city landmarks to be decorated and raise private funds for the projects. “It will be fun. You need things in a city that will bring smiles to people.” Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners unanimously approved the conceptual plan in March. A cost estimate is expected by May. No funding is in place yet, with the committee still in the process of setting a budget and having plans drafted. RailAmerica, which runs Florida East Coast Railway, would then review the proposal. Medalie, a former city employee, came up with the idea after years of hearing former co-worker Susyn Stecchi, who ate lunch on Riverwalk every day, comment that “’when I look at that bridge, all I can think of is a gator — a big, green gator.’” Boaters traveling downtown encounter the bridge located just west of the Andrews Avenue bridge. It closes to river traffic to allow freight train access. If all goes according to plan, the gator design is targeted to be in place by next March, in time for the city’s birthday celebration taking place on Riverwalk March 27.
Riding into history
A moss green alligator would be quite a change for the traditional steel bridge gracing Riverwalk’s skyline. Jim Kovalsky, treasurer of the Florida East Coast Railway Society, e-mailed that he personally has his doubts about the project. “…I am concerned that this kind of a project will make the bridge even more of a target for vandals who want to “tag” it with graffiti. Anything that can increase the desire to trespass on railroad property will increase the risk of someone (likely a teenage male) being killed by a train.” The bridge has been renovated twice. It was originally built in 1895 with a single track. It was replaced with another single track span in 1925. The pivot point for the leaf moved from the south to the north bank of the river. During the 1930s and 1940s, FEC trains carried passengers and freight, according to FEC company historian Seth Bramson. “Southbound trains were mostly arrivals coming from Buffalo, Chicago, and other places up north,” Bramson said. “Northbound trains were departures. The passengers arriving would have to walk a long way southward to the station. The passengers departing would have to walk a long way towards the New River to get on their passenger car.” In 1978 the current two track bridge was installed. Today about 16 trains a day running 24 hours a day carry only loads of freight on the rails.
City birthday plans
Another proposal the committee is investigating calls for adding signature lighting beneath the 17th Causeway bridge in time for Winterfest in December. “The specific type of lighting has not been identified, but we are researching options that make sense from an environmental and economic perspective,” said city spokesperson Shannon Vezina in an e-mail. To see a video on the bridge proposal, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-0BXipCoZA.