Group Seeks to Save Old Spanish Trail Bridge

Courtesy Pensacola News Journal

Group looks to save historic bayou bridge

Louis Cooper
lcooper@pnj.com

A downtown Milton revitalization and preservation group wants plans to demolish
a 72-year-old bridge stopped.

The state Department of Transportation has scheduled a public meeting today to
discuss plans to replace the U.S. 90 Marquis Bayou bridge in East Milton.

Members of the nonprofit organization Main Street Milton say the 1937 span
should be preserved.

“This is a historic bridge that gives character to the area. We need to preserve
everything that makes us distinctive,” said Ryan Arvay, the group’s vice
president.

Several historic buildings were lost during a major fire in downtown Milton last
January, Arvay noted.

“We can’t afford to lose any more,” he said.

The state’s plans include demolishing the existing bridge and building a new one
about 50 feet south. It will include two lanes of traffic with paved walkways on
each side.

Main Street Milton has not adopted an official preference for the ultimate use
of the current bridge. Options include keeping the bridge and upgrading it for
continued vehicle traffic or maintaining it as a cultural asset as a pedestrian
and bicycle route.

However, Tommie Speights, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said
the bridge’s lack of structural integrity rules out an upgrade.

Arvay also is concerned about the possibility of the state one day using the
right of way of the current bridge to build a four-lane road through downtown
Milton, taking out more historic buildings and changing the character of traffic
through the commercial area.

For years, state and local officials have wrestled with how to improve the
capacity of U.S. 90 in Milton.

One option is to build a bypass around downtown, probably to the south. Another
is to widen the existing road through the heart of the historic district.

In an April 16 letter to Santa Rosa County, project manager Clay Hunter said the
state wanted to keep the current bridge’s right of way because “it can be used
in the future … to four-lane this portion” of U.S. 90.

The Milton City Council is on record as preferring the southern bypass.

“The city and its citizens have said time and again they don’t want a four-lane
highway through our historic downtown,” Arvay said. “Heritage tourism is a
multimillion-dollar industry in Florida and downtown Milton has the potential to
draw on that, but it requires careful and sensitive preservation of what makes
us special.”

Speights said there are no current plans to build a four-lane highway through
downtown. A study on what route to take is ongoing, but the planned replacement
bridge will be usable in any case.

“The new bridge will be able to accommodate two lanes of traffic in one
direction for future four-laning,” he said. “The new bridge is designed to be in
service 75 years.”

The state is preparing a “cultural resource assessment” of the bridge, he said.
That will be submitted to the state Historical Preservation Office to determine
the historic significance of the bridge. Depending on the assessment’s findings,
measures to preserve the bridge may be taken.

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Filed under Bridges, Florida, highways, history, Old Spanish Trail, preservation, Uncategorized, US Highway 90

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