Ringling Bridge a Reminder Progress is Good

Guest Correspondence

Progress is hard but good. We have a great example of that progress and how hard it is here in Sarasota, our very own Ringling Bridge. 

Many who fight against progress and change today use that very bridge for walking, biking and for vehicular transportation. It has become an icon of Sarasota. When residents and visitors see a picture of the bridge, you automatically think about Sarasota and its beauty.

The bridge has been there in some form for 93 years and has seen three different constructions. The first by John Ringling himself, the second saw completion in 1958 and the version we have today was built with much controversy and rancor and completed in 2003 after 13 years of debate and opposition.

Along the way, citizen and environmental groups wanted a low bridge and also wanted it to be another drawbridge, opposing the tall fixed-span bridge. 

I moved here while the debate over the columns of the bridge was happening, just before construction began. Yes, for those of you who were not here, the debate at that point was the shape of the columns of the bridge. 

Having grown up in a community that was dying the entire 22 years I lived there in western New York, I remember thinking if this was the biggest problem this community had, we were very blessed to live here. 

I grew up in an area that had headlines of factories closing and industry moving out, little construction growth and hard winters. Taxes and regulation were killing small businesses and my Dad worked a second job to keep the family masonry contracting small business afloat. The headlines here, in Sarasota, back in 2001, dealt with the appearance of a bridge.

Sarasota historian Jeff LaHurd characterized the overall 13-year fight about the bridge in a 2014 column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

“From today’s perspective, it is difficult to believe that few projects in Sarasota’s history have been more controversial and divisive than this now universally accepted means of transit to the keys. The city, backed by those who thought it was too high and an eyesore that would mar the skyline, reportedly spent $500,000 in an attempt to block its construction.”

The controversy that occurs now over progress and development also occurred 25 years ago. Despite lawsuits and numerous citizen committees protesting Sarasota would be ruined by the bridge, progress and forward-thinking luckily prevailed and we have the beautiful fixed-span bridge today.

Can you imagine traffic today if the low-level drawbridge was kept? Can we grasp what stopping change and progress would have done to this community and especially that of Lido and Longboat residents in terms of traffic?

We need to have more forward-thinking like the Ringling Bridge and create legacies in infrastructure and development that will be used and functional for tomorrow. Progress is hard, and can be debated, but it should not be stopped.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation

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