By David R. Corder, Daily Sun, September 19, 2018
Two bridges are being developed to traverse the Florida Turnpike. The northern bridge, shown in this rendering, will cross near the Village of De Luna, an area between Brownwood Paddock Square and the Village of Fenney, providing golf cart access to villages in the southern region. Submitted rendering
The dream of connecting The Villages residents to amenities from one end of the community to the other is becoming reality with construction of multiple bridges underway — including a just announced second bridge to cross Florida’s Turnpike.
“These bridges will add not only to the ease of movement throughout the community, but will continue to be a fun, celebratory sense of arrival and departure for years to come,” said Tracy Mathews, The Villages vice president of design.
Plans for the first Turnpike bridge were unveiled earlier this year near the Village of De Luna, an area between Brownwood Paddock Square and the Village of Fenney. This pathway will connect golf cart traffic to villages in the growing southern region — De Luna, Fenney, De Soto, Marsh Bend, McClure, Linden, Monarch Grove and others — with established villages to the north. The second Turnpike bridge will be built a few miles to the south near the Okahumpa Service Plaza. This pathway will connect both golf cart and vehicle traffic to future areas, including land recently acquired in Leesburg.
Both Turnpike bridges are part of an expanding connectivity network that includes two bridges being built over State Road 44 and a handful of smaller bridges crossing area water features, such as a pond near Brownwood.
“These impressive structures will serve as both a symbolic and functional gateway,” Mathews said. “But, of course, the main excitement is the connectivity they will bring to The Villages. They will effectively make it possible to navigate the community by golf cart from State Road 42 in Marion County in the north all the way south from Brownwood across State Road 44, ultimately providing access to all future neighborhoods and amenities in our community.”
Donna and Mark Hetherington, of the Village of Hemingway, are looking forward to traveling by golf cart to the southern amenities.
“We’re really excited about the new bridge,” Donna said. “We golf at Fenney all the time there, so it’ll be great once it’s done.”
“We also love to go exploring,” said her husband, Mark. “There’s a lot of nature and wildlife there, it’s really nice.”
And residents down south are looking forward to accessing the amenities to the north.
“It certainly will be a lot easier when the bridges are done and we can go up anytime we want,” said Fred Grimm of the Village of Fenney.
Grimm is eager to bring his own golf cart to the executive courses that he golfs twice a week while riding in someone else’s cart. And he loves the idea of touring all town squares from his home.
“That will definitely make Fenney even more desirable,” he said.
Last week, the CDD 13 board of supervisors approved an agreement to assume all future infrastructure costs for the bridges in advance of a pending municipal bond issue — just as has been done in every other CDD developed here.
Officials say the entire system should be operational in less than two years.
“I can’t wait to see the bridges,” said Wildwood Mayor Ed Wolf. “That little cart bridge across the Brownwood pond is so architecturally pleasing, I can only imagine what it would look like when it spans the four lanes and median of Florida’s Turnpike.”
The Brownwood pond bridge, the two State Road 44 bridges and the northern Turnpike bridge all will incorporate the same curved steel trusses in a rust-like finish to project an Old Florida image, Mathews said.
They will be coated in corten steel, which weathers in a durable, rust-like finish. The truss web member connectors have gusset plates and bolted connections reminiscent of railroad bridges from a bygone era.
Large-scale pillars that use Sumter County fieldstone will bookend the bridge to provide a classic look, she added.
“These elements are symbolic of historic town markers, and were often utilized to mark important places,” she said.
Design plans for the southern Turnpike bridge are still coming together, she said, adding that it will be constructed of traditional concrete to support both golf carts and vehicles.
In addition to improving the quality of life for residents, the news also means increased future services from Wildwood, Wolf said. He noted that his city just marked $1 billion in annual taxable value because of The Villages development.
“It’s extremely exciting,” he said. Anything that moves The Villages forward benefits the city of Wildwood at the same time. And it opens just that much more opportunities for home ownership, job growth, shopping, medical and recreational services.”
Projects on this scale also contribute considerably to the state’s overall economy, Gov. Rick Scott told the Daily Sun.
“There are more contractors living here, there are more businesses that have opened here,” he said. “There are a lot of jobs. You have more talent coming to the state, and you build businesses and help our state grow.”