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A Link to the Past

by Jenny

By Larry Schwingel
Photo courtesy of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society

By today’s standards, swing bridges are a throwback to a bygone era. Yet after 93 years, Fort Lauderdale’s Snow-Reed Swing Bridge (or the Southwest 11th Avenue Swing Bridge) is still swinging. The landmark is the oldest of its kind in Broward County and one of the very few in Florida.

Installed in 1925 by the Ohio-based Champion Bridge Co. and named for R.G. Snow and Will Reed—who served as mayors during construction—the bridge today has been tagged by the Florida Department of Transportation as “functionally obsolete” due to its outdated design. But for Patsy West, a longtime Riverside Park resident, the bridge is anything but archaic.

“The bridge spans the North Fork of the New River at 11th Avenue, and it’s a vital passageway for everyone who lives in Riverside Park and Sailboat Bend,” she says. “We would be terribly handicapped without it, not to mention the problems that would be created if emergency vehicles didn’t have direct and fast access to our neighborhoods. I think it’s a necessity.”

The first swing bridge along the New River was installed in 1905 by the Tennessee-based Converse Bridge Co. for $6,640. Located at Andrews Avenue, it served as the only pedestrian-vehicle crossing until 1915. As the population grew and Dixie Highway became linked to Andrews Avenue, the bridge’s single-lane design was no longer feasible for the traffic boom. Residents of Waverly Place (now Sailboat Bend) and Riverside asked the town council a question: “If you’re going to replace the Andrews Avenue bridge why not let us have the old one?” That laid the groundwork for what eventually became the Snow-Reed Swing Bridge.

“Only seven swing bridges carry highway traffic in Florida—and the Snow-Reed Swing Bridge is the oldest still in service,” says Richard Kerr, a bridge management inspection engineer for FDOT. It was last renovated in 2010, when a new tender control house was built and new railings, reinforced steel, and upgraded mechanical and electrical systems were added.

In 2017, the bridge to somewhere became a bridge to nowhere when it closed for construction. Due to the bridge’s outdated design, city officials had a hard time finding a vendor that could manufacture a custom lock motor to close the bridge. After some delay, the bridge reopened in December. According to FDOT, the average daily traffic volume is more than 6,600 vehicles. “It’s everything to us; it’s our major artery,” West says. “We are landlocked between Broward and Davie boulevards and I-95, so we need this outlet.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 Issue.

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