Florida’s Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
How Venice Became an Island with Three Bridges & a Bypass
Article Provided Courtesy of the Venice Area Historical Society
The story of how and when Venice became an island began on a nation-al scale. In the early 1800s, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, the idea of protecting the commercial and military shipping routes along the American coastline from rough seas and enemy attacks was proposed to Congress. Eventually, an in-tracoastal waterway from Boston to Browns-ville, Texas, took shape, as both publicly and privately financed canals were stitched together along the eastern and Gulf coasts.
It took decades to complete the Intracoastal Waterway along Florida’s west coast. An early waterway ran from the Venice Inlet to north of Tampa. In 1939, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended improving the old waterway by dredging a nine-foot-deep, 100-foot-wide commercial shipping canal and extending it south to the Caloosahatchee River at Fort Myers. In 1945, Congress approved this 152-mile venture, now part of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway that extends to Brownsville. To raise local funding and address area concerns, the Florida legislature created a taxing authority called the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND).
From the late 1920s to the mid-1960s, five different routes were proposed for the local segment of the Intracoastal. Citizens, Realtors, business owners, newspaper publishers, the Venice City Council and the Chamber of Commerce all weighed in on the momentous decision regarding the route for the Intracoastal Waterway and its supporting infrastructure. In the end, the City of Venice accepted the Seaboard Route, named after the railroad whose tracks it paralleled, along with a set of financial commitments from the Army Corps, the State of Florida, and the WCIND. Three bridges would be built to facilitate traffic flow on and off the resulting island of Venice; Tamiami Trail would be widened and designated the US-41 business route through the City, and a four-lane US-41 Bypass would direct through-traffic around Venice. The funding agencies even agreed to pay for relocation of the 15th hole of the Lake Venice golf course.
Bridge construction began in late 1964, and by mid-1966, all three bridges were completed. The Venice Avenue and South bridges were built over dry land, with the latter being renamed the Circus Bridge in 2004. Paving the four-lane Venice Bypass also began in late 1964, and it was partially opened in early 1966. Originally intended as a non-commercial highway, the present-day highway currently winds through an area that is full of diverse businesses.
Digging the waterway at Venice began in late 1965 and was completed just over a year later. The excavated material was used to expand Eagle Point and develop the yacht basin at Country Club Estates. The waterway was dedicated on February 25, 1967, as an excited crowd looked on from a flotilla of boats. Completion of the waterway, bridges and bypass altered the character of Venice forever, and it has exceeded the wildest dreams of those who argued for the canal because of its recreational value.
Special thanks to: James Hagler, Venice Museum and Archives, and Charles W. Listowski, West Coast Inland Navigation District
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