Clay County Memories: The Buckman Bridge

Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 5/24/17

For almost 50 years, the Buckman Bridge has been both a blessing and a curse for morning and evening commuters in Clay County. Some who most vigorously complained about having to drive to …

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Clay County Memories: The Buckman Bridge

Posted

For almost 50 years, the Buckman Bridge has been both a blessing and a curse for morning and evening commuters in Clay County. Some who most vigorously complained about having to drive to Jacksonville or Green Cove Springs to cross the St Johns River have been known to wish for the old days.

Locals first began to hear rumblings of the proposed new bridge in the early 1960s. They were thrilled and anxious to avoid sitting for hours in summer heat in the parking lot that morning and evening stretched from Orange Park to Timuquana Road. Remember, most cars weren’t air conditioned in those days.

Then they learned where it might go and the trouble began.

The proposed routes were innocuously named A, B. and C. and were officially presented to the locals, Clay County elected officials and residents alike, according to an article appearing in The Florida Times Union. “A” landed in the county just south of the bridge at the mouth of Doctors Lake. It was eliminated early on.

Route “B” slashed through the middle of Orange Park at Stiles Street slashing the approximate three square miles of Orange Park almost perfectly in half. Route “C” put the bridge dropping down in Duval County nestled up against the Clay County line.

Needless to say, it really hit the fan then. Orange Park leaders had just spent the last decade wrenching themselves from redheaded step child status with the county bosses in Green Cove Springs and dragging themselves into the twentieth century which was already half over. The north end of the county was finally growing, becoming Greater Orange Park and being heard, not isolated from the decisions of power brokers in the county seat.

The community connections of the rapidly growing Greater Orange Park area were new and fragile and the Stiles Street Route threatened to obliterate the town. The veiled threats from the big boys to the north suggesting that opposition to the Stiles route might result in no bridge at all just added fuel to the fire.

The first public hearing was in August when more than 200 concerned citizens met in Orange Park’s newly built town hall to hear representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Commission. The bridge plan was now reclassified as part of the Federal interstate system and a leg of Interstate 295. The meeting adjourned after lots of hollering and pounding on tables with no decision and no gunfire. But… there was at least one fist fight in the parking lot.

Eight months later in April, 1964, the decision was made to locate the Buckman Bridge in Duval County just north of the Clay County and Orange Park northern boundary line.

The bridge opened to traffic in 1970.

By the mid-1990s, the structure was so heavily congested that it was expanded to eight lanes from the original four and breakdown lanes were added. In fact, construction on the bridge or its access roads seems to be never ending.

Hard to know what the lesson is here. Be careful what you wish for. Or perhaps … if you build it they will come … and come and come.

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