“May Days” is an on-going series of stories and observations of life in Southwest Florida, including the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva, from the perspective of a young adult. We hope you find May Babcock’s contributions to COASTE and our coastal lifestyle magazine and media network to be entertaining, enjoyable and uniquely youthful and spirited. We do.
The Sanibel Causeway is a major part of the daily life for many Southwest Floridians. Growing up on Sanibel Island, 90 minutes of my day are spent traveling to and from high school in Fort Myers, part of my journey across the three bridges and two man-made islands that make up the causeway. But the pass between Fort Myers and Sanibel was not always so easy. Up until the mid-1950s, the only way to access the island of Sanibel was by automobile ferry. The idea of building a bridge from the mainland to the island was presented when it became clear that, with the number of cars coming to the island, the use of ferries was insufficient. This idea became highly controversial among the residents of the island, as many thought a bridge would ruin its beauty and isolated feel. Despite the opinions of the islanders, construction began, and the original bridges, consisting of two bridges and one drawbridge, opened on May 26, 1963. Steady streams of cars began to cross the new bridges, and within two hours of its opening, 1,200 cars had crossed — shifting this sleepy island to a bustling tourist attraction. By the early 1990s, the original bridges began showing signs of rapid deterioration due to the bay’s salt water. After this turn of events, it was concluded that all three of the bridges needed to be replaced as soon as possible. On September 8, 2007, a grand opening ceremony was held for the trilogy of bridges we know and love today.
Although the original bridges made life easier than the ferries did, compared to today, crossing the Sanibel causeway — particularly with its drawbridge — often made traveling those three short miles seem like forever.
But the causeway experience in my family pertains not only to me. Both my grandfather and father crossed the original set of bridges when vacationing here, in 1966 and 1970 respectively. Although the original bridges made life easier than the ferries did, compared to today, crossing the Sanibel causeway — particularly with its drawbridge — often made traveling those three short miles seem like forever. My father describes it as “sometimes taking at least an hour to cross, between the toll and the drawbridge letting boats cross through. Traffic could be backed up to where the Sanibel Outlets are located currently.” Even though the wait was long, he says he was “always excited to cross the bridge because [he] knew it was the start of [his] vacation.”
I get the joy crossing this tranquil place every day, sunrise and sunset.
Today, I’m one of three million cars that cross the causeway every year. Although the drive to and from school is long and tedious, the incredible view makes it all worth it (some days!). Seeing the sun break over the horizon every morning gives me a feeling of peace and tranquility before I’m greeted by the grind of school. The afternoon drive home presents a different picture, with people hanging out at the beach, kite boarding, fishing, and stopping to take pictures along their journey. It’s incredible to me how so many people travel for miles just to enjoy this slice of paradise, and I get the joy crossing this tranquil place every day, sunrise and sunset.
— Story and Photo by May Babcock