One of the most distinct features of the First Coast area is the St. Johns River and the seven bridges that run across it to connect various parts of the city. We will profile each of these bridges, in a series titled “Seven Bridges”.
Opened to traffic in 1970, the Henry Holland Buckman Bridge provides the connection between Mandarin and Orange Park via I-295’s West Beltway.
The bridge has a complicated relationship with local residents. On one hand, it provides an outstanding view of the St. Johns River and riverfront buildings and landmarks. On the other, it’s the site of frequent accidents and daily traffic jams. It was in the news recently when a resident had to jump off of the bridge into the St. Johns River to avoid being crushed by an oncoming car.
The Buckman Bridge carries traffic on the I-295 West Beltway between exits for San Jose Blvd. and Park Ave./Roosevelt Blvd.
The bridge was constructed in the late 1960s. The process was not entirely smooth; according to a 2008 retrospective by the Florida Times-Union, construction had to be halted at one point due to explosions caused by excess methane gas coming from the river. It was expanded to eight lanes in the mid-1990s to accommodate the massive traffic demands. Space to accommodate broken-down vehicles was added as well.
The bridge features a steel multi-beam design. It is a “dual bridge”, wherein eastbound and westbound traffic each have their own separate bridge span. It holds the record for “most dual bridge lane miles”, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Its total length is 16,300 feet — that’s about 3.1 miles, making it among the longest bridges in the country.
The bridge is named in honor of Henry Holland Buckman. Buckman, a Jacksonville native, was a legislator perhaps best known for the Buckman Act, which he authored in 1905. It organized the state universities of Florida into three categories: one for women, one for men, and one for African-Americans. While those universities (FSU, UF, and FAMU, respectively) all went on to become fine institutions, the whole “discriminating by sex and gender” thing is an unfortunate relic of the time period.
The Buckman Bridge is considered by many to be a headache due to its frequent traffic backups. However, to truly appreciate its value, try to imagine life without the bridge. Commute times to and from Orange Park would double, if not triple, due to the longer path required and the increase in traffic at alternate routes. Not only would it be awful for Orange Park and Mandarin residents, it would potentially bring the rest of the city’s bridges and major roads to a gridlock.
So while the Buckman Bridge may not be our favorite, it should at least be appreciated for what it offers.
That’s it! That’s all seven bridges. To read back through the other profiles, visit http://coastaljax.com/whyjax/sevenbridges. Stay tuned for our e-book, The Bridges of Jacksonville, featuring an introduction from editor Nathan Woods as well as other bonus material.