Clearwater Memorial Causeway, Clearwater

Originally constructed in the 1920's as a low level two lane drawbridge, the Clearwater Memorial Causeway was reconstructed in 1963 as a high level drawbridge similar to the Madeira Beach Causeway and was liberated from the kingdom of the Draw Bridge Ahead warning sign in 2005 when the new high level Clearwater Memorial Causeway was opened. Connecting Clearwater with Clearwater Beach, the Clearwater Memorial Causeway is a part of FL 60, a cross Florida highway beginning at the roundabout at Clearwater Beach and traversing the state across the Courtney Campbell Parkway and through Tampa, Brandon, Bartow, Lake Wales and the Florida Turnpike junction at Yeehaw Junction and ending in Vero Beach.

The first Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge was a wooden bridge built around 1915. At that time Pinellas County was just a young county only three years old after separation from Hillsborough County and Clearwater was just a sleepy little town, being selected as the county seat of Pinellas County to the disdain of St. Petersburg. The wooden bridge lasted for several years into the 1920's when a two-lane reinforced concrete drawbridge was built.

The two-lane Clearwater Memorial Causeway served its needs very well carrying beach goers to Clearwater Beach (back then, you did not have these high rise hotels and condominiums that we know today). Around 1960 growth within Clearwater Beach as well as Clearwater itself plus heavy traffic was justification for the Florida DOT to build a high level drawbridge similar to the Madeira Beach Causeway to replace the 1920's two-lane drawbridge. When the high level drawbridge opened in 1963 the 1920's drawbridge was converted into a fishing pier.

Being an integral part of FL 60, the 1963 Clearwater Memorial Causeway drawbridge was built as a 4-lane drawbridge to allow for expansion of the highway to better serve Clearwater Beach. Like its 1920's predecessor, the 1963 drawbridge served the needs of Clearwater, Clearwater Beach and the surrounding area well into the 21st Century.

However, rapid growth not only in Clearwater Beach and Clearwater as well as the construction of the condominium canyon in nearby Sand Key have taken its toll on heavy use of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, not to mention the increasing number of visitors every year. After plenty of debate as to whether to build another drawbridge or a high level fixed span bridge, it was decided that the Clearwater Memorial Causeway drawbridge would be replaced by a high level fixed span bridge.

Work began on the replacement bridge in 2001; however, a lot of controversy brewed during construction. One of the most notable controversies was in 2004 when one of the piers of the new bridge cracked to the point that it was unsafe. By coincidence, the contractor on the new Clearwater Memorial Causeway project - PCL Civil Constructors Inc. - ran into the same problem when a pier on the elevated lanes of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway in Tampa sank. (PCL was the contractor on both projects).

With the piers in question replaced, work progressed to completion and the new bridge opened in 2005. It makes one feel like that you are on an interstate highway rather than your typical bridge. Going westbound you can see Clearwater Beach as well as the neighboring Sand Key Bridge and going eastbound you have a view of the skyline of downtown Clearwater. The new Clearwater Memorial Causeway was well worth the wait.

The 1963 high level drawbridge used to put motorists on the mainland of FL 60 onto Cleveland Street, which is the main street of downtown Clearwater akin to Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. However, when the new high level fixed bridge opened in 2005 the routing for FL 60 changed: Instead of using Cleveland Street, Court Street would be used as the new route for FL 60. With that also came jurisdictional changes: Cleveland Street - now relegated as a downtown city street - went from Florida DOT to the City of Clearwater while Court Street - especially the section from Missouri Avenue to the Pinellas County Courthouse where the new Clearwater Memorial Causeway begins - went from City of Clearwater jurisdiction to Florida DOT jurisdiction.

On an unrelated note, at the same time US Alternate 19 - which used to be on Ft. Harrison Avenue - was rerouted by the Florida DOT to follow Missouri Avenue (a continuation of Seminole Blvd from the south), Court Street and Myrtle Avenue. Both FL 60 and US Alternate 19 multiplex for a very short distance on Court Street between Missouri Avenue and Myrtle Avenue.

The Clearwater Memorial Causeway is a beautiful sight to see, day or night, walking or driving. It's a much better improvement than the 1963 drawbridge.