The Sanibel Causeway is a causeway in Southwest Florida that spans the San Carlos Bay, connecting Sanibel Island with the Florida mainland in South Fort Myers. The causeway consists of three separate two-lane bridge spans, and two man-made causeway islands, which are located between each of the three bridges. The entire causeway facility is owned and operated by the Lee County Department of Transportation. There is a six dollar toll in effect for island-bound vehicles only, and there is no additional toll for vehicles exiting the island. The toll facility accepts Florida's statewide " SunPass" prepaid electronic toll collection system, along with Lee County's "Leeway" prepaid toll system, which is also used on the Cape Coral Bridge and the Midpoint Memorial Bridge. As drivers heading towards the island pass through the Toll Plaza located on the mainland in Punta Rassa, they head west and cross Bridge A, and land on the first man-made causeway island. On this first island, the road turns south, and then crosses Bridge B, which lands on a second causeway island. After the second island, the road crosses Bridge C, which then lands on Sanibel Island. The distance from the Toll Plaza to touchdown on Sanibel is approximately 3 miles (5 kilometers).

The Sanibel Causeway originally opened for traffic on May 26, 1963, replacing a ferry boat service that ran from Punta Rassa to Sanibel since 1912. Construction on the entire causeway, and the three original bridges lasted 15 months and cost $2.73 million. Sanibel Island experienced major growth in the early 1970s due to the causeway. This led to Sanibel's incorporation into Lee County's third city, which took place on November 5, 1974. Former CIA director Porter Goss served as Sanibel's first mayor. In 1990, Lee County proposed the idea of replacing the original three-bridge causeway with a single four-lane high span bridge due to the age of the bridges. Many Sanibel residents opposed the idea in a referendum and it was later abandoned. Lee County made major repairs to the bridges in 1991 when they began to show signs of corrosion from the salt water. The deterioration continued and more repairs were made in 1997. In the early 2000s, The bridges continued to show signs of rapid deterioration from overall lack of maintenance and salt water corrosion, and in 2001, Lee County made plans to replace Bridges B and C, and refurbish Bridge A (the drawbridge). On January 6, 2003, during a routine inspection, severe cracks were discovered underneath a 48-foot (15 m) deck section on Bridge B. After this discovery, all three of the bridges were very closely monitored, and the damaged section was braced with additional steel pilings. Bridge B's speed limit was temporarily lowered to 10 miles per hour (16 km/h), and the rest of the causeway's speed limit was lowered to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). A temporary 10-ton weight limit was put in place. Lee County determined that the 48-foot (15 m) deck section needed to be completely replaced as soon as possible. The county then made plans to close the causeway for an entire day in order to replace the section. This meant that Sanibel residents and business-owners would be completely cut off from the mainland for the day, and extensive preparations were made. The causeway was shut down all day on January 20, 2003, which was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The holiday was chosen since schools and government offices would be closed that day. The deck section was replaced with a steel grate section, since concrete would take a week to complete. The replacement was completed quickly, and the causeway re-opened ahead of schedule. After this turn of events, Lee County reexamined it original plan for rehabilitating Bridge A (the drawbridge), and concluded that all three of the bridges needed to be replaced. On August 13, 2004, the area was struck by Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 hurricane. The causeway received only minor damage and was very carefully inspected before Sanibel residents were permitted to return to the island. Construction of the current bridges commenced in August 2004. The three dollar toll was increased to six dollars in November 2004 in order to finance construction. Construction on the current spans lasted three years, and cost $137 million. An official grand-opening ceremony for the current bridges was held on September 8, 2007, which was the day the current Bridge C opened (even though the current Bridges A and B opened prior to September 8). The original bridges were later demolished, and their remains were sunk into the water to create a number of artificial reefs in the San Carlos Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bridges

Bridge A
Bridge A is the bridge closest to the mainland in South Fort Myers. Bridge A is 70 feet (21 m) tall and stands as the tallest bridge in Lee County. The bridge previously holding this record was the nearby Matanzas Pass Bridge, which is 65 feet (20 m) tall. The original Bridge A was a 26-foot (7.9 m) high drawbridge. Plans for replacing the drawbridge with a high-span bridge had been talked about since 1985, but were not made official until 2003, when Lee County concluded that the drawbridge (as well as the other two bridges) needed to be replaced. Many residents of the city of Sanibel (which does not own the Causeway) were opposed to the construction of a high-span bridge, and pursued Lee County to either refurbish the drawbridge or replace it with another drawbridge. Shortly before construction was set to begin on the high-span bridge, the city filed a lawsuit against the Lee County in an attempt to stop construction. Sanibel claimed that Lee County did not maintain the bridges properly, and used the toll revenue for other road projects. Lee County then filed a counter lawsuit, claiming Sanibel was interfering with construction. A second lawsuit against Lee County was filed by a group of Sanibel residents who created a non-profit organization called "Save Our Bay, Inc." All of the lawsuits delayed construction, and were eventually dismissed. During construction, one worker, Kent Crappell, was killed when a piling he was driving into place crumbled and collapsed. He immediately moved the crane so the piling would fall away from other workers and the existing bridge. The weight of the piling subsequently tipped over and crushed the cab of the crane, killing Crappell. Had Crappell not acted immediately, the piling would have fallen onto traffic on the existing bridge. The current Bridge A finally opened for traffic on June 28, 2007, along with a new toll plaza. The following day, a private ceremony was conducted by the Sanibel-Captiva Optimists Club to commemorate the final opening of the drawbridge. The Sanibel-Captiva Optimists Club had held a raffle for the opportunity to be the operator of the drawbridge's machinery for its final opening. Seasonal Sanibel residents Bob and Ana Finks won the raffle, and they got to keep the operating lever from the drawbridge's control room as part of the prize. At the end of the ceremony, the drawbridge's draw spans were permanently left open. On October 30, 2007, during demolition of the drawbridge, the remains of the two bascule piers were imploded. Many Sanibel residents came to view the blast from the shore in Punta Rassa. The blast itself was actually delayed an hour because some dolphins and a manatee and came too close to the site before detonation, and crews had to wait for them to leave the area. Traffic on Bridge A was halted for about a half hour after the blast.

Bridge B
Bridge B is the middle bridge, and is also the shortest of the three bridges. The current Bridge B opened for traffic on April 11, 2007, making it the first of the current spans to open. The current Bridge B was built ten feet taller than the original Bridge B to help reduce corrosion from salt spray, which was one of the major factors in the deterioration of the old bridge. Unlike the other two bridges, Bridge B is a low-level bridge, and has no navigation channel passing underneath. The weekend after the current bridge opened, many fisherman used the original bridge to fish from. This led to a grassroots campaign to have part of the bridge left intact as a fishing pier. The campaign succeeded, and the first few pilings on the south end were left in place, and brand new deck sections will be constructed on top of them. Although, as of 2010, construction on the pier has yet to begin. The pier will be similar to the fishing pier constructed out of the original bridges on the Sunshine Skyway in St. Petersburg. The fishermen frequently catch tuna, dolphin, sailfish, marlin, and swordfish from the pier.

Bridge C
Bridge C is the closest bridge to Sanibel Island, and is also the longest of the three bridges. Bridge C's vertical clearance over its navigation channel is 26 feet (7.9 m). The current Bridge C opened for traffic on September 8, 2007, making it the last of the current spans to open. A grand-opening ceremony was held the same day to commemorate the completion of the current spans. As part of the grand opening ceremony, the first group of cars to cross the current Bridge C was a procession of classic cars, followed by regular traffic. Similar to Bridge B, the current Bridge C was also constructed ten feet taller than the original bridge.

Media References
In Blue Collar Comedy Tour: One For the Road (2006) comedian Ron White makes a reference to the old Sanibel Causeway bridge when he said he was pulled over for driving 11 mph (18 km/h) in a 5 mile per hour zone on one of the bridges. The speed limit was indeed reduced to 10 mph (16 km/h) on one of the bridges after speculation that the bridges were severely damaged from corrosion.


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