- August 19, 2022
What was once an old rusty railroad bridge became an iconic piece of the West Orange Trail in 1994 for users who ventured through the west side of Oakland and crossed over the Florida’s Turnpike.
The piece of West Orange County history now is, itself, history after being replaced because of roadwork taking place below the bridge.
The Florida Department of Transportation began a road-widening project last year that included 6.2 miles of roads and adjoining bridges along the turnpike. Increasing from four to eight lanes of traffic below required a longer bridge above.
The iconic steel bridge — which once served as a railroad crossing for the Orange Belt Railway and now transports walkers, runners and cyclists from one side of the turnpike to the other — was demolished last year to allow for the turnpike construction. The pylons holding up the bridge were removed for the road widening. After the bridge was taken down, the trail remained accessible via a detour along Oakland Avenue.
The Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise collaborated with Orange County on the design for the new, longer bridge, said Matt Suedmeyer, manager of the county’s parks and recreation department.
“They have prototype designs they required us to pick, and we picked the prototype design that matched the existing the best we could.”
Suedmeyer said the county has the old “West Orange Trail” signs that were affixed to the north and south ends of the bridge and the center but he wasn’t sure if FDOT was using the same signs or erecting new ones.
The new bridge, which was built offsite and put in place with a crane, is 14 feet wide, the standard width of the trail system.
The old bridge was narrower — just big enough to accommodate the Orange Belt Railway, which reached Oakland in 1886 — but still worked for use as part of the trail.
The bridge was built when the turnpike system was constructed in 1964, according to train enthusiast and local railroad historian Phil Cross. It was used as a train bridge until the last train rolled over it in May 1984.
According to Mike Parker, the town of Oakland’s public works director, the bridge and trail should be opened by mid-summer. The town also has asked FDOT to move the Hull Island intersection about 15 feet east of its current location for better visibility.
The 22-mile West Orange Trail was completed in 1999. It extends from the Orange/Lake County line, through the town of Oakland and the city of Winter Garden, across U.S. 441, and through downtown Apopka to Welch Road.