- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

KINGSLAND, Ga. (AP) - Construction of the U.S. Highway 17 bridge spanning the St. Mary’s River 90 years ago established the Atlantic Coast Highway as the nation’s first “ferry-less route to Florida.”

Prior to completion of what is now known as the Blue Bridge in February 1927, motorists had to stop at what was known as Wilds Landing in Kingsland for a ferry that historians described as “undependable” at best.

When the states of Florida and Georgia agreed to share the cost to build the span across the river, the challenge for architects was to design a bridge that could accommodate boat traffic.

They designed a bridge with six concrete girders, approach spans and three steel trusses.

The Pensacola Shipbuilding Company built the bridge with the help of subcontractors after 11 months of construction.

“For several years after its construction, Florida State Road Department publications featured this bridge in its publications for its engineering and because it opened the border between the two states,” said Ron Tittle, a Florida Department of Transportation spokesman in Jacksonville.

Most bridges built in Florida to handle motor vehicles in the 1920s, including the Blue Bridge, were swing bridges because they were inexpensive, Tittle said. The design fell out of favor a decade later because the bridges were slow, difficult to open and restrictive to boat traffic trying to navigate local waterways.

The span is a hand-operated swing bridge that is still operational today. The central portion of the bridge is manually swung open 90 degrees by six to eight workers operating a manual turnkey, a large wrench-like tool about 15 feet long. The turnkey is inserted into the swing mechanism mounted on a concrete pillar in the middle of the river channel and, with lots of exertion, the metal span of the bridge is opened.

“It is usually open one or two times a year and has been since 1998,” Tittle said.

The last time the bridge had to be opened to accommodate a boat was in April 2016, he said.

Florida Department of Transportation officials, who are responsible for maintaining the bridge, said it takes about 30 minutes to manually open once or twice a year for maintenance.

The Blue Bridge is one of the few operational swing bridges still manually opened and closed. Most other working swing bridges in the state are operated electrically.

The Florida Department of Transportation completed a $3.5 million renovation several years ago that closed the span for more than a year. Corroded steel was repaired, the swing mechanism was refurbished, followed by a new coat of paint and clear coat.

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Information from: The News, https://www.thebrunswicknews.com

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