By now, we’re probably all familiar with the stories of the seven bridges that carry vehicular traffic across the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. But there’s another structure that carries a different kind of traffic across the river: the Florida East Coast Railway Bridge.
There have been two different iterations of the FEC Railway Bridge. The first of those two was actually the first bridge built to carry traffic across the river.
The original bridge span was commissioned in the late 1800s by railroad magnate Henry Flagler, who founded Florida East Coast Railway. Flagler was an advocate for Florida tourism, and his company sought to enhance transportation within the state by forming a rail path – through new development and acquisitions – that ran from Jacksonville to Miami.
The construction of the original span helped fuel the development of South Jacksonville, now known as San Marco, as it allowed for commuter traffic to flow back and forth between the northern and southern banks of the river.
Florida East Coast Railway grew rapidly as well, causing the original single-track span to be deemed insufficient by the early 1920s. It commissioned the construction of a new, dual-track railway bridge from German engineer Joseph Strauss of the Chicago-based Strauss Bascule Bridge Co.
Strauss was known for designing bridges with fixed-trunnion bascule lift spans, wherein the moving parts of the bridge pivot around axles – he designed several similar bridges throughout the country. He also served as the chief engineer for the famous Golden Gate Bridge in California.
The new span – which is also known as the FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge – opened in 1925 next to the Acosta Bridge, which opened four years earlier to carry vehicular traffic. With less commuter traffic and the addition of a second track, the new bridge was able to handle the remaining rail traffic more than adequately.
Over the years, as commuter rail traffic ceased to exist in Jax, the bridge’s main task has been handling commercial traffic for both FEC Railway and other railroad operators.
When the original span of the Acosta Bridge was torn down and replaced in the early ‘90s, the FEC Railway Bridge once again became the city’s oldest bridge. Unfortunately, in recent years, the bridge has started to increasingly show its age.
The bridge required extensive maintenance in 2014 when its moveable elements got stuck. And, while it certainly doesn’t handle the level of traffic it used to, maintenance breaks still slow down supply lines and cause major issues for boaters or ships looking to pass through the area.
It’s possible that one day soon, another replacement will be needed. If and when that day comes, hopefully the city will be able to find a way to preserve and reutilize the existing span.