One of the most distinctive 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.”
Constructed in the late 1980s, the Napoleon B. Broward Bridge (or “Dames Point Bridge”, as it is more commonly known) is a cable-stayed bridge that serves as part of Jacksonville’s I-295 Beltway. Specifically, it helps to provide a connection between northern Jacksonville and the rest of the city.
The bridge crosses over the sparsely-populated Bartram Island (once known as Quarantine Island) that lies between the Arlington and New Berlin neighborhoods.
The most notable feature of the Dames Point Bridge is its cable-stayed design. A cable-stayed bridge involves the use of large columns, to which a series of cables are attached. Those cables are then responsible for holding up the bridge itself. The Dames Point Bridge utilizes a specific subset of cable-stayed bridge known as a “harp” design, wherein the cables do not cross over the top of the bridge itself. At one time, it was the only bridge designed in this fashion in the United States.
While others have since been constructed, the Dames Point Bridge still ranks among the few with this design. It also ranks among the largest cable-stayed bridges in the country. The bridge utilizes more than 20 miles worth of cables, and is over 10,000 feet in length.
The bridge is officially named after Napoleon Bonaparte Broward. Broward, a Jacksonville native, is a revered (also somewhat polarizing) figure in Florida history, having served as the state’s governor from 1905 to 1909. Prior to serving as governor, he was also the sheriff of Jacksonville’s police department. Aside from the bridge, Broward also has a Florida county and a residence hall at the University of Florida that bares his name.
The bridge’s colloquial (and more popular) name of “Dames Point Bridge” is inspired by its geographical location. The neighborhood of New Berlin, located near the northern-most point of the bridge, used to be known as Dames Point. Dames Point got its name from captain Charles Dames who, according to UNF’s Florida History Online archive, used the land for his ship-building plantation. While the area itself is very rarely still referred to as Dames Point, the nickname “Dames Point Bridge” caught on and remains used to this day.
The bridge’s construction began in 1985 and took about four years to complete, opening itself to traffic in March 1989. It was designed by a combination of Kansas City, MO-based Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff (now known as HNTB Corporation), and the locally-based RS&H, Inc. HNTB also handled the redesign of Fuller Warren Bridge, while RS&H handled the redesign of St. Augustine’s Bridge of Lions.
The bridge has become noted among local residents for being the site of many traffic incidents, especially in recent months; this seems to be more a result of driver errors than the bridge’s design.
The Dames Point Bridge, in addition to its unique structure, is also the eastern-most of the city’s seven bridges, and therefore is the first seen by ships entering from the Atlantic Ocean. As such, it represents an important aspect of the First Coast’s infrastructure, providing a valuable path to northern Jacksonville from I-295 and a unique contribution to the city’s skyline.
Next up: the Main Street Bridge! Stay tuned.