Florida 500: History of the Florida Turnpike (Part 1)

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Since south Florida is made largely of transplants many locals don’t know nor care about the complicated history of road building in the region this is a good time to discuss the remarkable road that is the Florida Turnpike. While the federal government dolled out money for roads in their native New York and Chicago, road building down here in what was the backwater of America (a tourist haven, but a place very few people seriously thought of living after the Great Depression) was largely a state and local matter.

The Interstate Highway system didn’t come to Florida until the early 1960s. Even then the stretches of urban roads built in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville didn’t connect to anything until the large stretches of rural interstate were completed in the 1970s and 1980s. Jacksonville and Miami had to take matters into their own hands to build urban freeways and both did a remarkable job of designing and ultimately building roads financed with local and state money. For example, the Palmetto Expressway was built by Dade County with some state help in the late 1950s. At the time I-95 didn’t exist, and the Palmetto cut through dairy farms until hitting some urbanized areas near its termination in Kendall. Today, the Palmetto carries more cars than any Interstate in Florida outside of south Florida metroplex.

Governor Fuller Warren from Jacksonville was a populist visionary. He was probably Florida’s most colorful governor and modeled himself in many ways after Huey Long. Warren, who was almost impeached by the Legislature numerous times had a vision. The vision was a limited access parkway from Miami to Jacksonville, then the two principal cities in the state. Conservative spendthrifts from North Florida known as the pork chop gang, led by Senate President Charley Johns from Starke thought the idea foolish. In the days of mal-apportionment, rural representation dominated the legislature, even though in 1955 close to a third of the state’s population lived in Dade County.

Warren was long gone when the first stretch of Turnpike opened on January 25, 1957 thanks in large part to the efforts of Florida’s first new south governor Leroy Collins and U.S. Senator George Smathers, who was from Miami and owned a home in Jacksonville. The Turnpike was the first large scale limited access road built in the South outside of urban core areas.

The initial stretch of Turnpike began at what is now the Golden Glades Interchange 10 miles north of Miami and ended at S.R. 70 in Fort Pierce. The original exists and service plazas on the road were as follows:

  • US 441/SR 826 North Miami Beach
  • SR 820 Hollywood
  • SR 84 Fort Lauderdale
  • SR 838 Fort Lauderdale (Sunrise Blvd.)
  • Service Plaza-Pompano Beach (Hammondville Road)
  • SR 814 Pompano Beach
  • SR 806 Delray Beach (Delray West Blvd.)
  • Service Plaza- West Palm Beach
  • SR 704 West Palm Beach (Okeechobee Blvd.)
  • SR 706 Jupiter (Indiantown Road)
  • SR 714 Stuart
  • Service Plaza- Fort Pierce
  • SR 70 Fort Pierce

The Turnpike was an entirely rural road at its opening. The only real development near the highway was at the Hollywood exit. The road had been built as far west as possible to avoid cities and not to break up vital dairy land. The design for the road as similar to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New York State Thruway.

Between 1957 and 1962, the aforementioned Palmetto Expressway was completed as was Miami’s North-South Expressway, I-95 in Miami, and I-195. Planning or building began on the East-West Expressway (now the Dolphin Expressway), the Airport Expressway and I-395. Around this time an interesting concept that was closer to becoming reality than many today realize was being discussed- the creation of Interama a year round world’s fair and international business center would have been located near the Golden Glades Interchange.

Interama as we all know never was built but out of it came a concept for full scale road building in South Florida from the commission charged with building the facility. The proposed roads were in both Dade and Broward Counties and included. (Interama is now celebrated at the South Florida History Museum in Downtown Miami with a full wing of the Museum dedicated to the concept and vision of the community)

  • Le June Expressway (Was to run from Miramar to the University of Miami)
  • Hialeah Expressway (Was to run from Collins Avenue to the West Dade Expwy along 79th st)
  • Interama Expressway (Was to run from 167th St to Downtown along Miami Ave.)
  • Opa-Locka Expressay (Became Gratigny Pkway and is less than 1/2 the proposed length)
  • South Dade Expressway (Now the Don Shula Expwy)
  • West Dade Expressway (Now the H.E.F.T., though it was originally proposed to come a little deeper into Miramar along the current Miramar Parkway)
  • Snapper Creek Expressway (Built as planned)
  • Snake Creek Expressway (Was to run along Hallandale Beach Blvd. from University Expwy to AIA)
  • Cypress Creek Expressway (Was to run from AIA to University Expwy)
  • University Expressway (Was to run from Parkland to Miramar along current Nob Hill Rd…..moved west, shortened and narrowed to become Sawgrass Expressway)
  • Deerfield Expressway (Was to run from University Expressway to US 1)
  • Rock Island Expressway (Was to run from Port Everglades Expressway to Deerfield Expressway along current Rock Island Road)
  • Sheridan Street Expressway (Was to replace Sheridan Street from University Expwy to AIA)
  • Port Everglades Expressway (Now I-595 and I-75 )

The proposed roads bolded were eventually built, those in italics were built in a smaller form and those in block letter were never built. The most useful of these highways that were never built, as it turns out would have been the LeJune Expressway, the Cypress Creek Expressway and the Interama Expressway. The LeJune Expressway was intended to run from the terminus of the University Expressway (which was modified substantially to become the Sawgrass Expressway- it was originally to follow the current route of Nob Hill Road and run from Parkland to Miramar, and it was to include service plazas and be built at 8 lanes, 4 in each direction) at the interchange with the county line Snake Creek Expressway (which was to run all the way east to AIA and west to the West Dade Expressway), and terminate near the University of Miami. The other extremely useful missing road would have been the Cypress Creek Expressway which as its name indicates would have run along Cypress Creek Road from AIA to the University Expressway. The Interama Expressway was to run from 167th Street in North Miami to Downtown Miami. This would have been useful reliever road for I-95 but at the same time would have further destroyed the historic African-American neighborhoods already upset by the building of the North-South Expressway (which was designated I-95 in 1964). The road building was partly killed due to a lack of cooperation between municipal and county governments, a lack of political will and due to a lack of funds. In 1972, all highways that were not already under construction in Dade County were de-authorized in favor of Metrorail and the roads not built in Broward would have then to built with county money alone and without companion roads in Dade County. In 1975, the Federal Government decided to re-route I-75 via Broward County rather than via the Tamiami Trail (largely because of Dade County’s decision to halt Expressway building) and that is the only reason I-595 and the Sawgrass Expressway were eventually built 20 years after similar roads with more proposed capacity were first discussed.

Meanwhile, Ferris Bryant the conservative former Mayor of Ocala and House Speaker had become Governor and had decided to re-route the Turnpike towards his home town and away from Jacksonville, a city which produced many ambitious politicians who were rivals of Bryant. The Turnpike opened in 1964 from Fort Pierce to Wildwood, a rural outpost 25 miles south of Ocala. This stretch was heavily rural and until the early 1990s when Orlando’s explosive growth engulfed the road, remained virtually unchanged. In 1988 the Legislature voted to extend the Highway to Lebanon Station on US 19 thus giving easy access to Tallahassee, the state capitol but that stretch was never funded and appears dead. The decision to steer the road away from Jacksonville and towards Orlando was callous decision at the time, but it turns out the Bronson family which owned much of the land the highway now traversed were set to make a killing off the road and the interest of Walt Disney. The family remains one of the most influential in Florida today boasting the current Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson. Not until I-95 was finally complete in 1988 did Jacksonville have an expressway link to Miami. The “father of the Turnpike” Broward County Commissioner Thomas B. Manual insisted on the route northwards towards Jacksonville until 1959, when he finally gave into Bryant. (More on this tomorrow)

The Turnpike in south Florida had several notable events after its opening. Here are some highlights.

  • 1964- New Interchange at SR 808 in Boca Raton.
  • 1967- New Interchange at Commercial Blvd in Fort Lauderdale
  • 1972- New Interchange at the West Dade Expressway which became the Homestead Extension (HEFT)the following year. Despite the name of the road, this interchange was actually in Broward County as the West Dade Expressway was part of the original two county road plan detailed above. Governor Reuben Askew, Florida’s greatest leader deserves credit for this highway being built.
  • 1975- New Interchange at PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens
  • 1978- New Interchange at Port St Lucie Road
  • 1979- New Interchange at Lake Worth Road
  • 1979- New partial Interchange at County Line Road (Dade/Broward Line)
  • 1982- New Interchange at Sample Road, Pompano Beach
  • 1986- New Interchange at Sawgrass Expressway
  • 1986/88- Turnpike expanded to 6 lanes from Golden Glades to SR 808 in Boca Raton
  • 1989- New Interchange at I-595, Fort Lauderdale
  • 1990- New Interchange at Griffin Road, Davie
  • 1992- Ticket system replaced by coin system
  • 1994- New partial Interchange at Atlantic Blvd, Pompano Beach
  • 1994- New Interchange at Boynton Beach Blvd
  • 1999- Road expanded to 6 lanes between Boca Raton and Delray Beach
  • 2002- New Interchange at Southern Blvd, West Palm Beach
  • 2006- Work begins to expand road to 8 lanes between I-595 and Atlantic Blvd.
  • 2007- New Interchange at Beeline Highway, Palm Beach Gardens

After the Broward County Expressway Authority went belly up in 1990 due to corruption and severe debt (the building of the Sawgrass Expressway was a first class boondoggle with highway plans having to be scaled back substantially because of Century Village Deerfield as well as contractor, politician and consultant corruption. Next time you are in a traffic tie up on the Sawgrass or NW 10th Street recall the construction plan for the road in 1982, was for an 8 lane highway with more frequent exits and a direct connection to I-95), the state took over the Sawgrass Expressway, lowered the outlandish tolls and is currently upgrading the highway which was built far below 1980s tollway standards. The Turnpike Authority is doing similar work in Hillsborough County with the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway which was also poorly managed by the county.

The Turnpike is one of the few roads in America that has been easily converted from rural parkway, to urban expressway. It’s legacy owes itself largely to the vision Florida’s leaders had in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when Florida was a progressive example of activism in the sunbelt. The road stands today as a monument to those who anticipated Florida’s rapid growth and understood that conservative penny pinching economics doesn’t stimulate economic development contrary to the doctrinaire conservative philosophy.

Tomorrow- the Turnpike in Central Florida

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2 thoughts on “Florida 500: History of the Florida Turnpike (Part 1)

  1. Trinchi is the sole reason the Sawgrass was not built through to Interstate 95. His political power was legendary and a good subject for a future Florida 500.

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