Traffic moved across the Bridge of Lions on March 17 for the first time in four years following the lengthy restoration of the historic landmark in St. Augustine, Fla. A key part of the work required the rehab team to remove the bridge’s signature arched girders and, after sandblasting, return them as non-load-bearing elements.

The bridge that is considered a signature of St. Augustine, Fla., was rehabbed in phases that included building a temporary bridge.
Photo: Reynolds, Smith & Hills
The bridge that is considered a signature of St. Augustine, Fla., was rehabbed in phases that included building a temporary bridge.
The bridge that is considered a signature of St. Augustine, Fla., was rehabbed in phases that included building a temporary bridge.

In 2004, the Florida Dept. of Transportation awarded a rehabilitation contract to Tidewater Skanska Inc., Virginia Beach, Va., for a $76.8-million project to restore the bridge built in 1927.

While the scope of the work included updating the bridge for future generations, the project also tried to maintain the integrity of the national landmark named after the lion statues flanking the western approach. It carries State Route A1A over the Matanzas River, linking downtown to Anastasia Island.

“The two elements that were really sort of sacred were to keep the bascule towers and the girders as original elements,” says Craig Teal, FDOT project manager. “They could be painted over and that type of thing, but they really couldn’t be altered in any way.”

The project called for a $9.4-million, 1,600-ft-long temporary concrete bridge to be built on 120 driven 24-in. piles, with an 80-ft vertical lift span to serve the navigation channel. Once traffic could move over the temporary bridge, the rehabilitation of the original 1,575-ft-long, two-lane bridge began, which included work on the 79-ft-long bascule span and the 24-ft-tall octagonal bascule towers with barrel-tile roofs.

Now the only remaining work other than aesthetic details is dismantling the temporary bridge.

“It was almost like four projects: build one, dismantle one, rebuild it and dismantle the other,” says Thomas J. Fulton, Tidewater project manager.

Both bridgeworks were designed by Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc., Jacksonville. The navigation spans were designed by Lichtenstein Consulting Engineers, Paramus, N.J. The design called for new approach foundations. Because the bridge gained a couple of feet in width in the rehab, the new foundations were built outside the existing foundations.

Previously, the bridge had a 15-ton limit due to the deterioration and dated nature of the structure. The city’s largest fire truck weighs more than that, so moving traffic across the bridge had been a challenge.

The arched steel-plate fascia girders were deemed an integral element in preserving the bridge, but their condition could not be determined until after the bridge had been disassembled, which required the fabrication of special bargemounted steel frames to hold 17 pairs of 100-ft-long riveted arched girders at their bearing points. Due to the traffic patterns in the area, the girders had to be shipped out late at night to Florida Structural Steel in Lakeland, Fla., where they were sandblasted.

Careful Inventory

Keeping track of the girders proved to be a challenge. “The plans we had from 1927 were not very detailed, obviously, so we had to essentially do an inventory of those girders, what the actual section was, and evaluate where we needed to strengthen them,” says Jack Haynes, Reynolds, Smith’s project manager.

Designers created a new steel framework to carry the bridge deck, which had been completely supported by the girders. “They took the load off those girders and turned them into ornamental girders and put in an entirely new structural-steel skeleton inside them to carry the load of the bridge deck,” Fulton said.

The city of St. Augustine seems more complete now that the work is done. “That bridge defines St. Augustine,” Haynes says. “I grew up in Jacksonville, and the debate on whether to replace it or rehabilitate it has been going on my entire life. And I think they did the right thing in rehabilitating it. I think when those lions return and the construction you see out there today goes away, it’s a historic project at a historic location. That bridge is on every postcard you see of the city.”