Connectivity plan Marks a banner day

The Brownwood Bridge over SR 44 is the first of four major bridges in the southern region of The Villages to be placed in its permanent home.

The vision of linking residents to shopping, amenities and services Villages-wide hit a major milestone as the first bridge to cross State Road 44 is now in place.

Motorists traveling on SR 44 at Meggison Road near Brownwood Paddock Square can’t miss the new gateway — the first of four major bridges to be placed in its permanent home in the community’s southern region.

Once completed, the Brownwood Bridge will connect to a pond bridge behind the Barnstorm Theater on one side of SR 44 and, on the other side of the highway, to a system of trails and pathways that will lead to another bridge being built over Florida’s Turnpike.

That Turnpike bridge, called the Water Lily Bridge, will connect residents to the community on the west side of the Turnpike, landing in the Village De Luna near the future Water Lily Recreation Center.

A few miles south, another bridge is being built to cross SR 44 at Kristine Way near Rohan Recreation Center. The Chitty Chatty Bridge will connect residents with amenities on the east side of the Turnpike, landing in the future Village of Chitty Chatty.

Construction has not yet started on the fourth bridge, the Bexley Bridge that will connect residents to future amenities in property purchased east of Marsh Bend Trail, formerly County Road 501, and south of Warm Springs Avenue.

Residents have been watching with anticipation for months as the bridges are being field-assembled — literally taking shape before their eyes.

“It’s often been said you know when you’re in The Villages, and these new bridges are no exception,” said Tracy Morse, The Villages’ vice president of design. “You’ll know when you’ve arrived.”

The network is expected to be operational for multimodal use in about a year, officials told the Daily Sun.

“We’re really looking forward to the new trail,” said Rick Coleman, the first resident to bring a golf cart to the Village of Fenney. He and his wife, Vicki, travel by golf cart daily to nearby golf courses, pools, pickleball, volleyball, bocce and the Fenney Grill.

“We love the fun of being in a golf cart,” he added. “It’s like a convertible because you get the wind in your face. In the golf cart, everything is at a slower pace and you really get to take things in a lot more. I’d love to be the first to use the new bridge!”

For the Brownwood Bridge, designers chose a picturesque setting nestled under majestic oaks shrouded in Spanish moss — the kind of spot that high school seniors flock to for prom photos.

A multimodal path will connect the structure with the new Brownwood Pond Bridge just east of the Barnstorm Theater. Fashioned after an old railway trestle, it has become a small landmark of its own.

Architect Ed Plaster said the three larger bridges are designed to be symbolic of historic town markers, that “will serve as both symbolic and functional gateways.”

All three bridges will incorporate the same curved steel trusses in a rust-like finish to project an Old Florida image. The truss connectors have gusset plates and bolted connections reminiscent of bygone railroad bridges. They will be coated in corten steel, which weathers into a durable rust-like finish.

“The entire design team — engineers, architects, planners, contractors — has been working for months to ensure that the bridges will live up to the very high aesthetic standards for which The Villages is known,” said Richard Busche, a senior vice president and project engineer with the engineering and consulting firm Kimley-Horn. “Every aspect of the design has been pored over and refined so they will be architectural landmarks that will make everyone proud. ”

The Brownwood Bridge will not be accessible for some time, and the public is asked to avoid the closed construction site for their safety.

The bridges “give us a glimpse of our future,” said Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, whose District 33 office includes all of The Villages and Sumter County. “It also shows the Morse family’s commitment to Sumter County for the next 20, 25, 30 years.”

Tracy Morse echoed that sentiment.

“Residents tell us all the time how much they enjoy the golf cart lifestyle,” she said. “Our vision for full connectivity is all about making sure they can travel by golf cart anywhere they want in the community.”