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BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK SUPPORT — An installation of pilings to support a new, higher bridge over the St. Johns River at State Road 44 is underway on the south side of the current span.

By the end of 2023, motorists heading west from DeLand on State Road 44 will have a new way to cross the St. Johns River into Lake County, and won’t ever have to wait for a drawbridge to allow tall boats through.

In the meantime, there will be some changes in how vehicles navigate the increasingly busy bridge-building area. Passage over the old Francis P. Whitehair Bridge will remain possible until the new bridge is open.

Construction of the new $42 million bridge is well under way, and some lanes have already temporarily shifted. 

The new bridge will be much taller, with a 45-foot clearance above the normal water level, as compared to the existing bridge’s 15-foot clearance. The new bridge will be built just to the south of the old one. 

Pile-driving has begun on the south side of the existing bridge, causing some traffic lanes to be shifted north as of Aug. 27. 

Also, the southeast 500 feet or so of a connecting loop that runs under the existing bridge is now closed, and a stretch of Old New York Avenue from the intersection with Shell Road to past the entrance to Hontoon Island is closed to through traffic, as workers prepare to construct ramps to match the roadway to the higher bridge elevation. 

Motorists can still access the businesses and residences on the road, either by turning off S.R. 44 onto Shell Road, or by connecting to Old New York Avenue through Ed Stone Park. 

This Florida Department of transportation graphic shows the section of the loop connecting to Old New York Avenue closed completely (in red), and the section of Old New York Avenue (in orange) that’s closed to through traffic, to accommodate bridge construction.

The Florida Department of Transportation is keeping open the north entrance to Ed Stone Park off S.R. 44 — this is also the easiest way to reach Shady Oak Restaurant, the popular seafood restaurant and bar that sits along the St. Johns River just south of the bridge. 

On the Lake County side, a four-way intersection is planned at the intersection of S.R. 44 and County Road 42 that will allow access to St. John’s Marina. The marina is currently accessible. 

On Thursday, Sept. 9, and Friday, Sept. 10, the eastbound lane of S.R. 44 will be closed overnight (from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) for installation of a barrier wall. Workers will be on the scene to direct traffic in alternating use of the westbound lane.

For more information on the project, or to see the latest traffic updates, click HERE

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