Brownwood Bridge opens as residents make first crossings

The first golf carts cross a bridge that connects southern Villages to Brownwood. The bridge is now open to the public, making shopping and amenities south of SR 44 more accessible.

The Brownwood Bridge is now open to Villages residents. The bridge across State Road 44­ along with the multimodal trail south of the highway along Meggison Road opened Wednesday morning when 15 families selected from a chance drawing to be the first to navigate the bridge did just that with their golf carts across the latest gateway to the southern area of The Villages.

With the opening of the bridge, the vision of linking all residents to shopping, amenities and services Villages-wide is one step closer to reality.

“When we first started coming here in 2007, it was obviously a smaller community,” said Sandy Legge, of the Village of Duval, who crossed the bridge Wednesday morning with her husband, Tom. “But now it stretches across a much bigger area. So it’s important to have these bridges to bring everybody together. It won’t feel like it’s us and them anymore.” 

Barbara and Dan Gammon, of the Village of Hadley, were thrilled when they got the call informing them they were selected to be among the first to take the bridge across SR 44.

“It’s been so exciting to watch the growth of The Villages and to see the bridges go up,” Barbara said.

“We’ve come over here I don’t know how many times just to check it out,” Dan said. “Every time we’d always say we can’t wait until they open it.”

Many of the residents who were part of the morning event dressed in festive holiday attire, and the excitement was comparable to Christmas morning. 

“It’s so exciting. I couldn’t believe it when we got the phone call,” said Jacklyn Witthoft, of the Village of Charlotte, who along with her husband, Roy, was in the golf cart at the front of the line for the initial crossing.

“The bridges are so impressive,” Roy said. “Especially at night when they are lit up. They’re a great thing for the community.”

Brownwood Bridge is one of four major bridges that will connect The Villages north to south. It connects Brownwood Paddock Square and areas north of SR 44 to future villages of Richmond and St. John south of the highway. The multimodal path along Meggison Road connects through a series of tunnels to the Villages of Hawkins, Bradford, Chitty Chatty and St. Catherine and more to come.  

“Residents tell us all the time how much they enjoy the golf cart lifestyle,” said Tracy Morse, vice president of design, The Villages. “Our vision for full connectivity is all about making sure folks can travel by golf cart anywhere they want in the community. We hope this will be one more reason Villagers are proud to call The Villages home.”

The opening of the Brownwood Bridge follows the October opening of Chitty Chatty Bridge, across SR 44 near Rohan Recreation Complex.

The Water Lily Bridge, across Florida’s Turnpike, is expected to open early in 2021. It will connect residents to the community on the west side of the Turnpike, landing in the Village of DeLuna near Water Lily Recreation Center.

A second Turnpike bridge, named the Southern Oaks Bridge, is in approval stages and will connect residents to the developing Sawgrass Grove area and Southern Oaks Championship Golf Course north of the Turnpike and to the planned Wellness Village and Lifestyle Center to the south. It will be built south of the Okahumpka Service Plaza and will accommodate vehicular traffic as well as golf carts.

“These structures will not only add to the ease of movement throughout The Villages community, but they will continue to be a fun, celebratory sense of arrival and departure for years to come,” said Mike Pape, land planner.

Each of the bridges are constructed of corten steel, which weathers to form a rust-like appearance that eliminates the need for painting. It’s designed to be reminiscent of steel train trestle bridges of a bygone era.

“These elements are symbolic of historic town markers and were often utilized to mark important places,” said Ed Plaster, architect. “These impressive structures will serve as both symbolic and functional gateways.”

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.”

Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.