JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Mathews Bridge celebrated 60 years with a re-dedication ceremony Saturday.
The bridge first opened Wednesday, April 15, 1953. 91-year-old Frances Padgett was the first person to cross the bridge that day, and said it was unbelievable.
"We tried for it for so long, and then we finally got it, and it was just like a gift from heaven," Padgett said.
Saturday, she did it again, just like she did back in 1953.
But before that day, Padgett said it wasn't easy to access the community of Arlington.
"We used to have to come around Atlantic Boulevard and it took forever and a day to come and go!"
After more than two decades of efforts made by the Arlington community and Florida Representative John E. Mathews, the $11 million, 7,832-foot long bridge opened to the public.
Cleve Powell, a local historian with Old Arlington Inc., said the bridge wasn't just about ease of passage. He said it marked the end of so-called "Old Arlington" and connected the neighborhood to downtown.
"The community of Arlington was really, really rural. The day the bridge opened, that's when everything changed," Powell said.
The Mathews was originally silver in color and also a toll bridge until the late 1980s, when the Florida Department of Transportation took over the maintenance costs.
Two major renovations to the bridge cost more than its original construction. Just a few years ago, the state spent nearly $16 million dollars to replace the center deck of the Mathews Bridge because of safety concerns.
Right now, the bridge is being repainted and repaired. That $23 million project began in September 2011 and is slated to be complete next summer.
First Coast News