| Alligator Alley
Florida's Most Controversial Highway
Alligator Alley, road of controversy, importantly connects the lower east and west coasts of Florida via Broward and Collier Counties. Arrow-straight for most of its length, it crosses for the first time the heart of what was an impenetrable wilderness, the Florida Everglades. It is the link between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. The Tamiami Trail and the former Connor's Highway skirt the northeast and southwest Everglades.
Alligator Alley is a remarkable achievement and adventure in road building. Its original official title was The Everglades Parkway. It was also known as the Fort Lauderdale-Naples toll road, but for those who worked for it and wanted it, who fought and overcame powerful opposition, it will always be alligator alley.
Guy W. Stovall, Ambassador of the Everglades
The need for such a road and the possibility of its construction have been talked about for years. Even in the declining years of the great Florida Land Boom of the 1920's, a cross-state route was proposed. An everglades pioneer, Guy W. Stovall, who spent years with the Florida Road Department, long agitated for such a road.
From the road's inception, the Seminole Indians, grown knowledgeable in the ways of commerce, supported its completion. They adopted on April 6. 1959, a resolution of approval stating that the road would be valuable in establishing business in the Big Cypress. The resolution indicated the Council's willingness to give right-of-way across its Reservation. Signing it were Betty May Jumper, vice chairman, and Laura Mae Osceola, secretary and treasurer
When opposition developed in the 1960's, and suits were brought to stop construction, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Incorporated, and Bill and Billy Osceola, as individuals, intervened in the chancery case before Judge May Walker of Leon County, and in the case before the Florida Supreme Court. They urged confirmation of the construction bonds.
John H. Monahan
Important to the road's ultimate construction was the appointment by Gov. Farris Bryant of John H. Monahan of Fort Lauderdale as South Florida's member on the Governing Board of the State Highway Department beginning January 1960. Monahan recognized the need for the cross-state road. He was a leader in the Alley's construction.
Historic Joint Board meeting inaugerating Alligator Alley
In 1961 the Boards of Collier and Broward Counties pledged the use of their secondary gasoline tax funds to guarantee the construction bonds. In a joint session January 1, 1962, the county Boards of Collier County and Broward County agreed to appropriate $30,000 for the feasibility study by Wilbur Smith and Associates. Collier Commissioner Winfred Jaynes, was a driving force.
Collier County Commissioner Winfred J. James
Most of the terrain to be traversed had never been given a detailed topographic survey. There was no information available to provide for reliable construction estimates.
Four fully equipped survey crews were engaged for five months on location in this most difficult terrain. Where possible, the most modern of survey methods and equipment were used. These included measurement of long distances by electronic means and the use of amphibious vehicles, helicopters, air boats, and two-way radio. To expedite the work, survey crews camped in the Everglades and cypress swamps for weeks at a time. Unusually dry conditions in the 'Glades facilitated work on the feasibility study.
Wilbur Smith was employed February 28, 1962, for the traffic and revenue report. On August 30, the same year, J. E. Greiner was chosen to prepare an engineering report. The preliminary soil survey for Greiner was conducted by the McLaughlin Engineering Company of Fort Lauderdale, with J. W. McLaughlin, Jr. In personal charge.
A helicopter flew a compass course and dropped markers every half mile from Andytown to Miles City east of Naples, and also landed engineers. McLaughlin used a stop watch to time his marker drops. At each marked site they probed to determine the quality of the soil, the surface rock, the muck and other materials available.
Next came the Florida Testing and Engineering Company. On a unique 32-day trip across the Everglades it made structural borings and a soil profile for the proposed highway. In April 1963, James V. Winterholler, Jr., P.E., President of the company, entered the Everglades at Andytown. Winterholler's party consisted of five of his own men, a Greiner inspector, and a cook and guide from Immokolee. Boring equipment was loaded on airboats. Winterholler carried maps prepared by Greiner indicating where the borings were to be made.
From Andytown to almost the western Broward County line the airboats worked satisfactorily. But when the cypress country was reached, it was necessary to switch to large swamp buggies equipped with huge airplane tires. These were brought down through the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. This was the first such survey made across the Everglades, and the first time a drill crew ever made actual borings directly across the Everglades.
In May of 1963 the J. E. Greiner Co. Of Tampa, brought in its report, stating, "The proposed project is feasible in its civil engineering and construction aspects."
Hopes soared when the Circuit Court approved issuance of $17,000,000 in bonds. The Supreme Court approved validation of the bonds in mid-may 1964. It was to connect the easterly limits of State Route 858, six miles east of Naples, with the intersection of U.S. Route 84 at Andytown, 18 miles west of Fort Lauderdale.Initially two lanes were proposed but engineering studies and preliminary designs provided for the ultimate construction of a four-lane divided highway.
In Collier County and the western portion of Broward County a borrow canal was opened parallel to and north of the roadway. In most of Broward County, were large areas of muck or material unsuited for roadway construction exist, borrow canals were excavated on both sides of the future fourlane facility. In Collier county, other than at existing or proposed canals concrete box culverts handle natural drainage.
Formidable, almost overwhelming, opposition developed even before the project got off the ground. Anticipated opposition from big Dade County, due to lose some initial traffic to the road, was supplemented by state-wide political candidates seeking favor of the heavy Dade County vote, and by others who honestly thought the project impossible or impracticable.
In addition, powerful elements on both coasts who wanted the Tamiami Trail improved before road monies were spent elsewhere, were joined by the American Automobile Association, which found much to oppose.
Among other unflattering things it called it a "Killer Road," "Suicide Lane," a "Toll-Road-To-Nowhere," a "Tragic Mistake," "A Gross Abortion," and "A Throwback to Horse and Buggy Days."
The American Automobile Association threatened to warn its members to stay clear of the road. "Knocking it," retorted on Road Board Member, "will arouse the curiosity of tourists and encourage more of them to ride it." He proved prophetic.
The AAA thought up the name of Alligator Alley to express supreme contempt for a road which it said was "designed with a flagrant disregard for essential safety; that didn't to where its proponents said it would go; and that charged a toll besides."
The AAA plan to route its membership away from the road was announced in mid-August 1966. It's director of public relations said the organization opposed toll roads and fought construction of the Alley since it was first conceived. The AAA joined the then Miami Mayor, Robert King High, and the City of Miami, in efforts to block the road, going all the way to the Supreme Court. But the effort was of no avail.
The Alligator Alley argument set city against city. It became a factor in politics. In the state election, some gubernatorial and other candidates sought to get on the opposition bandwagon for publicity purposes, and to attract the Dade County vote. The argument for and against, and the hard-feelings engendered among some of the then-controlling Democratic office holders and office seekers contributed in part to the election of Florida's first Republican governor since the days of Reconstruction.
"Alligator Alley is 'the most controversial road ever built in Florida.' Never in Florida history had so many favored building a road, nor so many battled to prevent its construction," reported the Associated Press.
The City of Miami fought it bitterly. Tampa, St. Petersberg and other more northern west coast metropolitan areas wanted the existing Tamiami Trail widened and improved. Newspapers of other communities, most of which already had their own east coast - west coast connecting highways opposed.
The AAA went so far as to issue a special Anti-Alligator Alley tabloid newspaper in which it reprinted much of the acrimonious argument denigrating the route. In it, it quoted the Miami News: "Appropriate tag for Everglades Expressway, after Road Board's approving action: 'Chickee Quickee'."
A Miami News cartoon had a cross-eyed Road Runner labelled "the State Road Department," standing by its offspring, an odorous little skunk hatching out of an egg -- labelled "'Glades Parkway Road Plan."
"The State Road Department's OK of the Pike," the AAA charged, "swamps public opinion." The paper continued: "the national AAA joins swamp pike fight." Under a Toronto, Canada, dateline: "The proposed two-lane toll road across the wilderness of Florida's Everglades came under sizzling condemnation here (Toronto) at the Annual convention of the AAA and its affiliate, the Canadian Association. The National Convention condemned the pledging of state gasoline tax revenues paid by highway users to guarantee payment of principal and interest on toll road bonds."
Major objections voiced by the AAA were that two lanes were unsafe; and its claim that the road would virtually eliminate the extension of Route I from St. Petersburg-Tampa to Miami.
The Everglades road was dubbed: "Spurnpike," "Shunpike," "Narrow Gauge Tollway" and "Death Row."
It reprinted Florida newspaper headlines: St Petersburg Times: "A Bond Risk We Can't Take;" Bradenton Call: "Expensive Drag Strip;" Manatee County Call: "That Turnpike Again;" Miami Herald: "A Few Curves in the Spurnpike;" Tampa Tribune: "Slow Down That Railroad;" Miami Daily News: "What's Going On In Tallahassee? Time to Bury Swamp Pike;" St. Petersburg Times: "Where's Bonding Protection?" The Sarasota Herald Tribune: "Alligator Alley!" and the Fort Lauderdale News: "Model T Type Road."
In 1968 the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in recognition of his forty-five years as a friend of the Indians, gave Guy Stovall the title Chief Halpatah. . . Chief Allegator.
O. E. "Sonny" White, project engineer and a veteran State Road Department man, said the fifty or more men who worked on the difficult Alley construction did so by their own choice.
Hurricane and other high winds three times tipped over the two 45 foot steel towers set up so that the engineers could keep a straight line through a sixteen mile tangent.
As actual construction started, four great Madawake eight-yard dippers of the Cross Co., New Iberia, La., lifted rock blasted from the borrow-pit canals. These draglines, worth a quarter of a million dollars each, dug and piled rock around the clock. A grind Roller of Cone Brothers of Tampa, road contractor, by its sheer weight broke up rocks with the heavy steel-like hog wire on its rollers.
The Alley was built from both ends toward the middle. Commissioned were the Cone Brothers of Tampa; Reynolds & Smith of Moore Haven and Houdaille-Duvall-Wright of Jacksonville. Cone engaged Cross Contracting Co., New Iberia, La., as a sub-contractor; Houdaille engaged E. W. J. Co. of Fort Lauderdale and Reubens Construction of West Palm Beach.
"Sonny" White's surveyors worked in water, sometimes up to their knees. The would drive two-by-four stakes, like chicken roosts, into the soil for bases on which to rest their instruments. His crews began work on the first twenty-seven mile stretch on November 2, 1964. Cone Brothers contracted for the east portion for $5,500,000. R. H. Wright, Fort Lauderdale, was awarded the contract for a ten-mile portion from Naples eastward for $1,375,000. To build any section required super-equipment and frequently, supermen.
Rock blasting required a full truck load of dynamite every week. Transportation was a major problem. Airboats were used since no truck could enter the unconquered wilderness ahead of the advancing roadbed. White used his towers and walkie talkies to communicate. Driving the gigantic piling into the man-made canals was tough and ticklish.
Bulldozers, crushers and trucks were used to offset nature's massive resistance. The solid crushed limerock base was scooped from below the muck and waterways of the adjacent canal. Big scale demucking and embankment building required many, many workers. This work was truly a modern-day miracle...over a route where no white man ever ventured before.
Madawake dipper at work digging and piling lime rock for roadbed
The road proper was actually started when hugh draglines, walking on special mats, inched their way out into the sawgrass to strip off the muck. Barges carrying dynamite drills floated in behind these draglines to blast out the lime rock of the 'Glades floor. Other dredges cast the dynamited material out of the canal.
The rock was crushed, placed on the roadbed, stabilized to form a compact base eight and a half inches thick, and then a binder material was placed on the road. Finally the surface material on which traffic rolls was placed.
Hazards of the road building were summed up by an anonymous construction worker. He wrote this prayer in an "Alley" out building:
"Please Lord, I've been a good man. So if I get cotton-mouth bit, or attacked by some of Oscar the Alligator's brothers, and if I get to that Big Job in the Sky, oh, please, Lord, let it be on dry land. Amen!"
Alligator Alley, the name the American Automobile Association used for the road, became official on August 19, 1966, when the State Road Board, meeting in Naples, adopted it. "Alley's a good name," said County Commission Chairman A. C. Hancock. "It'll attract tourists."
Controversy over the building of Alligator Alley began abating in the spring of 1966. The state, from the beginning, had ample right-of-way for four-laning as soon as traffic warranted. The highway surface was 24 feet, wider than either U.S. 27 or State Road 84, both originally only 20 feet wide. The highway was twelve feet above sea level and seven feet higher than the adjacent water of the 'Glades. Motorists, particularly those crossing the state in early morning or late afternoon hours in winter and spring months, see a wide variety of bird and animal life. Bridges every mile or two add to the scenic route and permit uninterrupted natural flow of Everglades water southward from Lake Okeechobee. The western terminus is at the interchange of Radio Road, five miles from Naples and its beaches, shops, and hotels on the Gulf of Mexico.
Note: Adapted from Alligator Alley: Florida's Most Controversial Highway, (pp. 3-29), by August Burghard, 1969, Washington, DC: the Lanman Company, Copyright 1969 by August Burghard. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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