JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Seven major bridges cross the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. The Main, Hart, Matthews, Fuller Warren, Acosta and Buckman are traveled by millions of commuters each year. Then there's that one bridge on the Northside that turns the most heads, especially from visitors. The Dames Point.
She rises majestically 175 feet over the St. John's River. Some say by day, she resembles a silvery schooner. By night, a glowing geometric web. Most agree the Dames Point Bridge is the most beautiful of Jacksonville's 7 bridges. Larry Wehner certainly does. "We opened to traffic on March 10, 1989." Wehner was the bridges project manager in the 80's. He oversaw construction of the 2600 foot bridge which for years was the longest cable stayed bridge in the western hemisphere.
"Dame Point. It's a very impressive bridge. It's a world renowned bridge and I'm proud to be a part of it," said Wehner. Wait a minute. What did he call it? "Dame without the 's,'" said Wehner.
John Lanahan, the JTA Chairman in the 80's, insisted it should be called Dame point. He even had it printed on the bridge plans. "So they changed the plans to make it Dame Point. As soon as they got that done they went back and said oh, lets put it back to Dames Point. Well, John Lanahan, the old Irishman, a little bit stubborn said no, it's Dame Point."
These days most everyone refers to the bridge as Dames Point even though, etched in the concrete in the wing walls of the bridge it says Dame Point. But the bridge really has three names, Dames Point, Dame Point and the Napolean Bonaparte Broward Bridge, named after the 19th governor of Florida. Blink and you'll miss the official state sign. The Broward name even came with a bit of controversy. "The Broward family is local here and they got Representative Jim King in 1987 and went to the state legislature and had the bridge named. It really didn't represent Jacksonville, the JTA had nothing to do with it and that's what it was called," said Wehner.
At the time many also called the Dames Point "the bridge to nowhere" `because the area wasn't as developed as it is now. Joe Vann has been fishing in the Dames Point area since 1956. "Sand dunes. You didn't see all this here. This is nothing like it is now," said Vann.
John Bentley remembers when the bridge was being built. "They had a lot of controversy about it because the people were talking about the current being too strong and all that stuff for the bridge to be here. But when they finally got it built it proved the people wrong who were against it," said Bentley.
Wehner spent more than three years overseeing construction of the bridge. It was a big balancing act. Workers built the two towers simultaneously while also extending the bridge deck that is supported by 288 cables. Inside each six inch cable are seven steel bars reinforced with mortar. "There's a similar bridge, a baby sister bridge to this one in Puyang, Malaysia. There were 17 workers who lost their lives on that. We had no fatalities, no serious injuries on the bridge," said Wehner.
However, tragedy was barely averted just months after the Dames point opened. The boom arm that lowered safety inspectors in a bucket broke at the elbow joint. One of the inspectors suffered a dislocated shoulder after falling 140 feet into the the river. The rest of the workers were rescued from the bucket.
The Dames Point is designed to withstand 140-mile an hour hurricane force winds. It has a 175-foot clearance. It's tall enough for some Carnival cruise ships but not for larger cruise ships or those carrying a number of shipping containers.
Wehner says the Dames Point has a design life of 70 years and came in under budget. An architectural marvel that will continue to impress the thousands who cross it day and night.
First Coast News