The first-ever "land bridge" in the United States will serve animals by night, humans by day.
This unique 52.5-foot-wide (16-meter-wide) overpass, scheduled to be completed by summer 2000, will lie inside a strip of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross-Florida Greenway that crosses I-75 just north of County Road 484 in Marion County. Years ago the interstate split the greenway, which stretched across the state, into two halves. Both sides will now be rejoined, thanks to the overpass.
[Photo: View of the bridge from the highway]
Deer, foxes, coyotes, possums, and other small- to medium-sized mammals will cross the highway through native vegetation and on the sandy soil they're used to. Hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders will enjoy an uninterrupted tour of the greenway.
The approximately 50,000 drivers a day who approach the I-75 overpass are in for a pleasant surprise. They'll see a bridge topped with rows of trees and supported by graceful "U" beams. "The U beams look better than the traditional I-shaped beams," says Mariano Berrios, Florida Department of Transportation project manager, "and they'll allow us to build a longer span."
The land bridge concept is based on the wildlife overpasses used in the Netherlands and referred to as "ecoducts."
Among the bridge's innovative features are a built-in irrigation system, 18-foot (5.5-m) planters along both sides, a 16-foot-wide (5-meter-wide) trail for bicyclists, pedestrians, and horseback riders, and even an oval "passing area" in the center for horse-and-buggy carriages.
Construction activities will take place mostly on the Interstate - not on greenway trails - so the movements of local wildlife won't be disrupted. Once the bridge is completed, the wildlife that use it at night will not be deterred by humans' use of it during the day, according to Dave Bowman, wildlife biologist at Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (the agency that owns the land and that will maintain the bridge's vegetation). "When animals want to cross the highway, they'll do it," he says.
Update: The land bridge was completed in September 2000.