The drawbridge carrying State Road 44 over the St. Johns River west of DeLand will soon be replaced with a new $27.2 million bridge three times the existing bridge’s height.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to replace the aging Francis P. Whitehair Bridge, which links Lake and Volusia counties, with a higher fixed bridge, removing the necessity for a bridge tender and for maintenance on the existing bridge’s mechanical parts.

Transportation officials had an open house Tuesday evening at DeLand’s Sanborn Activity and Events Center, giving residents a look at the project and a chance to ask questions.

The department is working to complete design work for the project this year, and construction on the new bridge is projected to begin in the summer of 2020. Land acquisition for the project is funded for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, to the tune of $586,000.

The bottom of the bridge will sit about 45 feet above the river’s normal water level, compared to the 15-foot clearance the existing bridge has when closed.

The additional height will require the approaches to the bridge on either side of the river to be remade into ramps, as well. That will impact access to nearby businesses and other facilities, such as St. Johns Marina, Shady Oak Restaurant and Ed Stone Park.

On the Volusia County side, a new access road will connect to the south side of State Road 44 east of the bridge, allowing access to Ed Stone Park and Shady Oak. A ramp will also be added, allowing westbound traffic access to the park and St. Johns Marina without turning left.

Meanwhile, on the Lake County side, State Road 44’s intersection with County Road 42 will be revamped. It will become a four-way intersection, with the access road to St. Johns Marina’s facilities on that side of the river connecting there.

The new bridge will include two 12-foot-wide travel lanes with 12-foot shoulders, along with space for a 12-foot-wide multiuse trail.

The current Whitehair Bridge opened in 1955, and was named for Francis P. Whitehair, a DeLand attorney notable for serving as undersecretary of the Navy during the Truman administration.

The drawbridge replaced an earlier bridge, built in 1917, known as the Crows Bluff Bridge, according to a 1967 article in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal.

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