John Ringling Causeway

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John Ringling Causeway
View of John Ringling Causeway in distance, overlooking Sarasota Bay facing northwest from recreational trail along Mound Street (US 41)
View of bridge and Sarasota Bay from the Sarasota Recreational Trail
Coordinates27°19′34″N 82°33′46″W / 27.3262°N 82.5628°W / 27.3262; -82.5628Coordinates: 27°19′34″N 82°33′46″W / 27.3262°N 82.5628°W / 27.3262; -82.5628
Carries4 lanes of SR 789 and pedestrians
CrossesSarasota Bay
LocaleSarasota, Florida
Official nameJohn Ringling Causeway
Other name(s)
  • Ringling Bridge
  • Gil Waters Bridge
Named forJohn Ringling
Maintained byFDOT
ID number170176
DesignSegmental box girder bridge
Total length3,097.04 ft (944 m)
Width106.35 ft (32 m)
Height65 ft (20 m)
No. of spans11
No. of lanes4
Design life75 years[1]
Constructed byPCL Construction[2]
Construction startAugust 2001[1]
Construction end2003
Construction cost$68 million
InauguratedAugust 30, 2003
Daily traffic33,000 (2014)

John Ringling Causeway (also known as Ringling Bridge or Gil Waters Bridge[3]) is a bridge that extends past the Sarasota Bay, from Sarasota to St. Armands Key and Lido Key. The 65-foot-tall (20 m) bridge, built in 2003, is a segmental box girder bridge named after John Ringling, one of the founders of the Ringling Brothers Circus and resident of the Sarasota area.[4]


The first bridge was built in 1925 by John Ringling, who owned large tracts of land on both Lido and Longboat Keys. He wanted to develop the islands and financed the cost of the bridge at a cost of approximately $750,000, equivalent to $10.7 million in 2018, to connect the islands with the mainland.[5] The ornate bridge opened for traffic on February 7, 1926 and was labelled "one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in the South” by the Sarasota Herald, which also proclaimed “There are no words adequate with which to express our appreciation.”[4][6] Ringling donated the bridge to the city in 1927.

Around 1950, the first bridge began to show that it could not adequately handle increased traffic to the islands. In 1951, the State Road Department opted to replace the bridge with a four-lane drawbridge, which was completed and opened to traffic in 1959. The drawbridge was built at a cost of $20 million and the original bridge was demolished.

Around 2000, the drawbridge began to suffer the same fate as its predecessor. With the drawbridge opening as many as 18 times a day, it was unable to handle increasing amounts of traffic. To remedy the situation, construction began on the current high-span bridge in 2001. The 65-foot (20 m) tall bridge opened for traffic in 2003 at a cost of $68 million. Landscaping around the bridge was financed by private donors.[6]


  1. ^ a b Wright, Cynthia (August 6, 2003). "Ringling Causeway Reconstruction Performs Center Stage in Sarasota". Construction Equipment Guide. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  2. ^ Cox, Billy (August 29, 2018). "Sarasota's Ringling Bridge divided a community 15 years ago". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  3. ^ "Ringling Bridge, Sarasota". Emporis. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  4. ^ a b LaHurd, Jeff (July 31, 2008). "Controversy, thy name is Ringling Causeway Bridge". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  5. ^ Lahurd, Jeff (August 17, 2014). "Sarasota's Ringling Bridge was always a symbol of city progress". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Papini, Michelle. "The Remarkable History of John Ringling Causeway". Bird Key Real Estate. Retrieved April 7, 2016.