John's Pass Bridge,
Madeira Beach and Treasure Island
Created by a hurricane way back in 1848, Johns Pass was named after John LeVeque who visited the area to hide some treasures he had amassed earlier. When John LeVeque tried to retrieve his treasure the hurricane of 1848 came through and created the passage between Boca Ciega Bay and the Gulf of Mexico where it is believed the treasure was buried.
The original Johns Pass Bridge was constructed probably in the late 1920's or early 1930's and was a low-level two-lane drawbridge carrying Gulf Blvd. (FL 699) between Treasure Island and Madeira Beach and served its purpose for many years. However, growth in the immediate Johns Pass area and the strong currents within Johns Pass forced the Florida DOT to consider a new twin span Johns Pass Bridge built on a different alignment to avoid the many shops sprouting up on Gulf Blvd. in the immediate vicinity of Johns Pass.
A new twin-span drawbridge was constructed and opened in 1971, with the original span to the east demolished shortly thereafter. Even though the pier bents were designed squarely with the current, the Johns Pass Bridge began seeing scouring problems as back as 1981. Additional piers were installed underneath the existing pier bents so that the piers would not sink.
Unlike most other drawbridges in Pinellas County where openings are restricted to a time schedule, the Johns Pass Bridge opens on demand and for a very good reason: The swift current prevalent in Johns Pass. The frequent yet justified bridge openings have had motorists waiting lengthy periods to get across. One business just immediately south of Johns Pass advertised drinks for 50 cents if the bridge was up.
Work began in 2006 on replacing the current Johns Pass Bridge with a twin span of new drawbridges. The new southbound span was opened in 2010 and the new northbound span was opened a year later in 2011. A major feature of the new John's Pass Bridge is that the center drawbridge section will be elevated a little higher so that less openings can take place, a welcome sigh of relief for the many motorists and pedestrians that use the John's Pass Bridge daily including law enforcement and fire/EMS vehicles.
My idea for replacing the John's Pass Bridge
The new John's Pass Bridge looks great, and I can't complain about that. However, the Florida DOT could have done a little better when it came time to replace the 1971 John's Pass Bridge.
I have two ideas which I believe would have been better than replacing an existing drawbridge with a new drawbridge with a higher vertical clearance, given the heavy traffic frequenting the bridge especially during the tourist season:
High level fixed bridge: This would have proven ideal not only for vehicular and pedestrian traffic but for boating traffic as well. Traffic would not be inconvenienced by the constant bridge openings and boaters would not have to be waiting in the swift current of Johns Pass. However, a high level fixed bridge at Johns Pass would bring strong opposition to the immediate community in that a fixed level bridge would obstruct pristine views of the Gulf of Mexico and its beaches.
Tunnel: Ft. Lauderdale and Miami have the only vehicular tunnels in the State of Florida. The tunnel in Ft. Lauderdale is located under the New River which carries US 1 south of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. The tunnel replaced a drawbridge which had been in operation for many years and motorists were becoming annoyed of the inconveniences when the bridge is opened. The other tunnel in Florida is located in Miami which is the Port Miami Tunnel, which makes easy access to and from the Port of Miami via Interstate 395 and the McArthur Causeway without having to navigate downtown Miami streets. Why couldn't a tunnel be an option for Johns Pass?
A tunnel would preserve the pristine beach views enjoyed by the immediate Johns Pass community as well as have the Johns Pass Village and Boardwalk blend in with the character of the area. However, a tunnel has its drawbacks, mainly the prohibitive cost to construct to begin with. Then you have the water table that's in the area and certain vehicles would not be permitted to use the tunnel.
John's Pass Bridge in the movies
In the movie Summer Rental (1985) there is a scene in which the northbound lanes of the Johns Pass Bridge are featured as the family arrives in Florida after a tiring drive from Atlanta. If you have watched this movie you will also get a glimpse of what the southbound lanes of the Johns Pass Bridge looked like, as Summer Rental was filmed 20+ years before work on the replacement Johns Pass bridges began. (Believe me, driving from Atlanta to Tampa on Interstate 75 and vice versa is a grueling eight-hour-at-least drive; the other option is to fly and have to navigate Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport and pay the high air fares!)