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.”
Once upon a time, there weren’t any bridges in Jacksonville that crossed over the St. Johns River. Commuters wishing to cross the river by car were served only by a ferry designed for transporting vehicles across the water, an option that was far from convenient.
In 1921, the opening of the original Acosta Bridge provided a solution to this issue. The bridge, originally known as the St. Johns River Bridge, came about as the result of councilman St. Elmo W. Acosta’s efforts to secure its funding. It was replaced in 1994 by an updated version, adopting the name of its predecessor.
The original bridge opened to the public in 1921. It was 1,645 feet long, same as the new one that stands today. It spanned three lanes, with the center lane being reversible based on traffic necessities. For nearly twenty years, it operated as a toll bridge; given that this was at one point the only bridge for vehicular crossing of the St. Johns, it was a lucrative venture for the city. Residents could purchase a special Acosta Bridge license plate that allowed for free travel across the bridge.
The old bridge featured a steel vertical lift design. It earned the nickname “Yellow Monster” due to the steel’s yellow hue and its tendency to get stuck, causing traffic delays.
Construction began on the new version of the bridge in 1990, with the old bridge closing in 1991 to accommodate the project. The new bridge officially opened in 1994, spanning six lanes. It includes two sidewalks as well as two monorail tracks running through the middle to accommodate the Jacksonville Skyway that runs across it.
The new bridge features a box girder design; it utilizes pre-stressed concrete, making it much more reliable than its predecessor. It’s also twice the width of the previous bridge. Prior to about a year ago, the bridge was lit with neon lights at night; the lights went dead in February, and the cost to repair them was deemed to not be worthwhile.
The bridge exits onto Water Street and Riverside Avenue at its northbound exit. Its southbound exit extends into San Marco, carrying traffic onto the Acosta Expressway.
The bridge is named for former city councilman St. Elmo W. Acosta. It was dedicated in his honor in 1949, two years after his death, by then-Governor Fuller Warren. (Warren would later have a Jacksonville bridge named for him as well.) Acosta was noteworthy for his dedication to, and successful securing of funding for, a bridge to cross the St. Johns River. His other causes included a noble dedication to a “greener Jacksonville,” and a much less noble dedication to blocking voting rights for women.
The bridge is notable for allowing bicycle traffic in its commuter lanes. Between this, the sidewalks, and the Skyway rails, the Acosta Bridge is one of the most pedestrian-friendly bridges in the city. Just as the bridge offered the first path across the bridge for vehicle traffic many years ago, with its pedestrian-friendly design it continues its tradition of being ahead of the curve.
Next up: Hart Bridge!