The third bridge is a visitor attraction

Designed as a transportation function but with beauty over Sarasota Bay

Ringling Bridge by Boat
View by Boat - The Ringling Causeway Bridge is majestic if viewed from the air, land or boat. The segmental box girder bridge has 11 spans for an official length of 3,097 feet. Its width accommodates two vehicle, bicycle and walking lanes in both directions.

Everyone has their favorite Sarasota icon to visit, whether it be Ca’ d’Zan at the Ringling Museum, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Opera House or Marie Selby Gardens. Most have at the top of their list the Ringling Causeway Bridge that provides the main thoroughfare between Sarasota and the barrier islands of Bird Key, Lido Key with St. Armands Circle and Longboat Key. It’s been photographed from almost every angle with spectacular shots at sunset or night. It’s been walked across, biked across, run across and driven across. There is even a Segway tour over the bridge.

Now it spans 60 feet high over the Sarasota Bay and in a 2015 count transported an average of 35,000 vehicles per day. And in peak season that means more cars travel the two lanes in both directions. The two draw bridges to the north on Cortez Road and Manatee Avenue are aging but still handle high traffic volumes. The latest proposal is to replace the Cortez Road bridge with a similar style bridge as the Ringling, 65 feet in height.

Original bridge built in 1925
The original bridge was built in 1925 as transportation between mainland Sarasota and the increasing popularity of the John Ringling attractions in the keys. Sarasota County Historical Resources photo.

The Ringling Bridge actually had been a draw bridge at one time. It was the second bridge in the history of the iconic causeway that first started in 1925, constructed by its namesake John Ringling. As it has been passed down through local lore, John Ringling used his circus elephants to pull the raw materials to its proper locations to build the bridge. He used his own money for construction of the bridge that would provide transportation to support his dream of Lido Key and Longboat Key development. It was one lane in each direction with a wooden divider separating oncoming traffic. Fishermen would line the bridge which Ringling donated to the city in 1927.

The first bridge would last a mere 34 years. One lane of automobile traffic was insufficient and boat traffic was increasing, in 1951 it was decided to take on a new eight-year project of constructing a drawbridge with two lanes of traffic in each direction at a cost of $20 million. Near the end of its lifespan the bridge was opening at a rate of 18 times per day to boat traffic, stifling both modes of travel around Sarasota and the Gulf of Mexico islands. The original bridge was razed after its completion in 1959.

Recent aerial photo of the John Ringling Bridge
The bridge is photographed from many angles.

With increased boat traffic, combined with the increasing popularity of the keys, a new solution was in the works near the turn of the century. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put forth a generic design for a new bridge. Citizens of Sarasota took sides, one supporting the original plan against a start-up organization that wanted to make a statement with a new bridge of its own design. One side of this five-year debate was concerned with cost and changes to the skyline. In opposition, community leaders argued that Sarasota would become a world-class travel destination with a spectacular looking bridge. The compromise may have offended both sides. That divide has coalesced over the years into a unified feeling that this structure is a source of pride for Sarasota.

The Ringling Bridge replacement project took two years and was completed in 2003 with a $68 million price tag. Its design is a segmental box girder with 11 spans for an official length of 3,097 feet. The 106-foot width accommodates four lanes of car traffic, bike lanes in both directions with a separation wall on each side for walking or running. The Florida Department of Transportation owns and operates the Ringling Causeway Bridge.

At the base on the Sarasota side there is a free T.J. “Tony” Saprito Fishing Pier where anglers regularly haul in their saltwater game. To support the fishermen, Harts Landing is a small bait and snack shop that is accessible from the pier or by boat dock. Its origination dates back to 1934 when the original Ringling Bridge started at Golden Gate Point before heading west to Bird Key and beyond. Harts Landing was moved to its current location following completion of the second bridge. This establishment serving the fishing community opens every day of the year from 6:30 AM to 6 PM. A park under the bridge is often visited by sightseers and locals exercising their family pets. Benches line the seawall.

Foot races challenge runners
Races over the bridge challenge runners twice a year.

There are two annual events for experienced runners that challenge your ability to climb the height of the bridge. For the past 15 years in January the YMCA has coordinated a four-mile route that crosses the bridge and returns to Sarasota at the half-way mark in Bird Key Park. A one-mile fun run uses the bayfront of Sarasota as its course. Both races start and finish around the area of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. In March, First Watch of Sarasota has a festival for its race, beer garden and concert for runners at the finish. There are three options to race. The half marathon has its runners climb the Ringling Bridge, circle around St. Armands, then return to Sarasota where they head north along scenic Sarasota Bay roads before returning to the Centennial Park area. A two-person relay option covers the same USAFT-certified course of 13.1 miles. The first runner in the relay has the option of joining the anchor within one-tenth of a mile at the finish and cross together. Runners in the 10K race travel the same route over the bridge but end near Centennial Park without travelling the full distance into northern Sarasota.

The Observer put together this video, the history of the Ringling Bridge with interviews. The Ringling Bridge is an attraction for visitors and fortunate Sarasota homeowners alike. Please contact me at (941) 387-1840 if you have a property to sell or buy.

Call us at (941) 387-1840 for an exclusive showing