Friday, September 19, 2008

New Sanibel Island Causeway Is No Cause for Concern

Spanning San Carlos Bay, the original causeway to Sanibel was constructed in 1963. From 1912 until 1963, the only way to get to Sanibel Island was via a steamer line ferry that connected the island to Punta Rassa. When the original causeway was constructed, it created the opportunity for this small and little known island to become part of greater Florida tourism. Sanibel Island experienced major growth in the early 1970s due to the causeway. The causeway, however, quickly became inconvenient as the greater access and "discovery" of Sanibel brought more and more people to the Island. The causeway was often clogged and when the draw bridge was opened for larger boats to pass under, traffic could be stalled for some time both coming on and off island.

In 1990, Lee County proposed the idea of replacing the original three-bridge causeway with a single four-lane high span bridge due to the age of the bridges. Many Sanibel residents opposed the idea in a referendum and it was later abandoned. But in 2003 after determining that there were cracks in the bridges and considering the increased traffic and congestion, the plan for a high span bridge was resurrected and successfully implemented. This was not done without a good deal of resistance, however, as many islanders wanted to refurbish the old drawbridge or build a new drawbridge.

We, too, had been worried about the new causeway as the charm of arriving on Sanibel had much to do with the causeway conduit. We were sure the new construction would destroy some of the old world charm of arriving at Sanibel and thought that the little islands that the causeway transversed would no longer be accessible by car.

These are enchanting spots, a man-made chain of islands that stretches from Summerlin Road to Sanibel Island. The islands were built to accommodate the Sanibel bridge, but have become a playground for sailors, fishermen, sunbathers and other beach enthusiasts. During winter and spring months the islands are the region’s top windsurfing and kitesurfing spots. High winds are consistent.

Most striking are the sunsets seen from the shores of the causeway.

But much to our relief, the new causeway completed a year ago still allows access to the islands. It continues to attract crowds at sunset because visitors can easily drive to the edge of the beach for spectacular views.

Additionally, the new causeway---from certain angles---looks like it is rising straight into heaven.

The original bridges, later demolished, were sunk into the water to create a number of artificial reefs in the San Carlos Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The only concern still remaining, is that the financing for the causeway came with a doubling of the tolls to get onto the island. The toll is now $6.00 rather than $3.00. It is only charged one way, coming on. And though we wish it would be less, six dollars seems a paltry sum to enter paradise.

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