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Courtney Campbell Parkway nears its 75th birthday

2009:  More than 50,000 cars daily cross the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

2009: More than 50,000 cars daily cross the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

With its remarkable views, numerous species of wildlife, lush vegetation and wide range of recreational opportunities, the scenic corridor we know as the Courtney Campbell Parkway is more than a highway. The 9.9-mile stretch that runs at sea level along Old Tampa Bay is an area icon. It doesn't just connect Tampa with Clearwater. It links present-day Tampa Bay with yesteryear. Opened June 28, 1934, 75 years ago this Sunday, to much fanfare, the parkway is quintessential Tampa Bay.

Name claim

The parkway was initially known as the Davis Causeway in honor of Ben T. Davis, the man responsible for building it. A direct descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, he was the first engineering graduate from the University of New Mexico but made his money in Texas cattle. Not long after moving to this area, Davis decided to construct a stretch that would cut 10 miles from the Tampa-to-Clearwater Beach route. (Only the Gandy Bridge existed at the time.) In 1927, he put down $1.5 million to begin dredging and filling the causeway, and seven years later, it was completed. During World War II, the federal government paid about $1 million to transfer ownership to the state. And in 1948, Davis Causeway was renamed to honor Courtney Campbell, a state road department member instrumental in bringing major repairs and beautification to the parkway. A Clearwater Beach resident, Campbell became a U.S. congressman. Today, a recreation area on the parkway's Hillsborough side is named after Davis, who died in 1946.

Status symbol

The picturesque causeway became the 14th parkway selected to the Florida Scenic Highways Program by the Department of Transportation four years ago, joining the likes of A1A Ocean Shore Scenic Highway in Flagler County and the Florida Keys Scenic Highway.

Celebration

An on-site celebration Thursday will mark the parkway's 75th anniversary. A reinstalled historical marker will be unveiled, and Gov. Charlie Crist is among the invited guests. For information, visit www.courtneycampbell.org.

Fast facts

•There was no speed limit when it first opened.

•At one time, Davis and his family lived in an apartment above the tollhouse on the causeway's Pinellas side.

•Because of its high number of accidents in the 1970s and '80s, the stretch earned dubious nicknames such as "Suicide Alley" and "Death Trap."

•The parkway has undergone various construction projects through the years, including multiple widenings and the addition in the late 1980s of a much-needed barrier wall to the center of the road.

•In 1935, a storm damaged the causeway so badly it had to be closed for three months.

By the numbers

24 feet Width of the actual roadway when it opened.

25 cents Original cost for a car and its driver to use the roadway. (It was a nickel more for each additional passenger.)

237 Accidents in 1981, an average of one every 36 hours.

50,000-plus Vehicles that cross the parkway daily.

6 million Approximate amount of cubic yards of sand dredged from the bay during construction.

Courtney Campbell Parkway nears its 75th birthday 06/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 12:09pm]

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