Flashback Friday: Florida’s Turnpike at 60 (Part 1 of 3)

Editors Note: This Part I of a series on the Florida Turnpike which turned 60 earlier this year. This article focuses on South Florida. All photos of memorabilia in this series are from my personal collection. 

Florida’s history is dotted by conflicts between urban and rural areas, north and south and the inherent tension the growth of the state after World War II brought. No place is this more apparent than in the building of the Florida Turnpike (originally known as the Sunshine State Parkway).

While the federal government dolled out money for roads in 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. But World War II transformed Florida and with the explosive growth in coastal areas that came in the mid and late 1940’s as well as a renewed tourist boom, improvements had to be made to highways.

The Interstate Highway system didn’t come to Florida until the early 1960’s. 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 1970’s and 1980’s. 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 1950’s. 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 metropolitan area.

The Turnpike was originally the vision of Charles Costar a South Florida CPA. 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 malapportionment, rural representation dominated the legislature, even though by 1960 close to a third of the state’s population lived in Dade and Broward Counties.

Governor Fuller Warren from Jacksonville was a controversial populist but also in his  own way was savvy and a futurist.. 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. He saw Costar’s vision and supported it.

Governor Leroy Collins welcomes drivers to the initial stretch of the Turnpike in this 1958 map guide to the highway

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. Governor Dan McCarty had signed the Turnpike State Authority bill before his death in 1953 after Costar and Broward County Commissioner Thomas B. Manuel had set up shop in Tallahassee and effectively lobbied once hostile rural legislators. Manuel became the Chairman of the Turnpike Commission and served in that capacity until 1961. He is honored by the name of the bridge over the south Fork of the St Lucie River in Stuart, the longest bridge on the mainline Turnpike.

The Turnpike route in a 1962 Sunshine State Parkway map

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

Service Plaza’s were designed to be 45-50 miles apart and until 1995 each facility had individual contracts for vendors.

The Turnpike was an entirely rural road at its opening. The only real development near the highway was at the Hollywood exit, where a post World War II development for veterans had popped up. 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. Initially portions resembled the grand parkways of New York that had been built largely due to the determination of Robert Moses.

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). In the early 1970’s the Homestead Extension of the Florida Turnpike  (H.E.F.T.) was opened and that road proved critical in the evacuation of South Dade during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the relief efforts afterwards. Today the H.E.F.T. between Coral Reef Drive and SR. 836 is the second busiest stretch of the Turnpike behind the stretch between 1-595 and Commerical Blvd in the Fort Lauderdale area. Below is a full list of proposed expressways in the south Florida area during the late 1960’s.

  • 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) (Portion west of Turnpike became HEFT)
  • 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 )
  • University Parkway (was to run from University Expressway, later Sawgrass to Flavor Pict Road in Boynton Beach along the boundary of the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refugee.

The proposed roads  that are in bold type above were eventually built, those in italics were built in a smaller form and those in block letters 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 deauthorized 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 House Speaker from Ocala had become Governor and fought successfully 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 1990’s 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 former 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.

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 Reubin 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
  • 2011- HEFT went coinless; SunPass only or Toll-by-plate.

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 finally in the mid 2000’s upgraded the highway which was built far below 1980s tollway standards. The Turnpike Authority did similar work in Hillsborough County with the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway which was also poorly managed by the county. The Selmon Expressway is now a model of an urban tollway that can be envied.

The Turnpike is one of the few roads in America that has been easily converted from rural parkway to urban expressway. Its legacy owes itself largely to the vision Florida’s leaders had in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s 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.

Next week we will focus on the second leg of the Turnpike between Ft Pierce and Wildwood via Orlando which opened in 1964. 

2 comments

  1. The Observer · · Reply

    When I first arrived here in 1981 you could ride from Commerical Blvd. to Boca for 15 cents and still be the only car on the road. Something you may not have known but our late friend Lawerence was involved in the paving of the Sawgrass Expy. I still think they dropped the ball by not extending University Drive to Delray or Boynton Beach. If this storm in Texas has taught us anything is that multiple escape routes are necessary in the event of a major storm..

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