Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Coordinates: 27°37′30″N 82°39′31″W / 27.62500°N 82.65861°W / 27.62500; -82.65861
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Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Coordinates27°37′30″N 82°39′31″W / 27.62500°N 82.65861°W / 27.62500; -82.65861
Carries4 lanes of I-275 / US 19
CrossesTampa Bay
LocaleSouth of St. Petersburg and north of Terra Ceia, Florida
Official nameBob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Other name(s)The Skyway
Named forBob Graham
Maintained byFlorida Department of Transportation
ID number150189
Characteristics
DesignCable-stayed
Total length4.14 mi (6.7 km)
Width94 ft (29 m)
Height430 ft (131 m)[1]
Longest span1,200 ft (366 m)
Clearance below180.5 ft (55 m)[2]
No. of lanes4
History
Engineering design byFigg & Muller Engineering Group
Constructed byAmerican Bridge Company
Construction startJune 1982[3][4]
Construction cost$244 million (equivalent to $652 million in 2023 dollars)
OpenedApril 20, 1987; 36 years ago (1987-04-20)
ReplacesSunshine Skyway Bridge
Statistics
Daily traffic65,215 (2023)[5]
Toll$1.75 for passenger cars or $1.16 with SunPass
Location
Map
Sunshine Skyway Bridge (former)
Coordinates27°37′30″N 82°39′31″W / 27.625°N 82.6586°W / 27.625; -82.6586
Carried4 lanes of US 19 (as two separate 2-lane bridges, one for each direction)
Characteristics
DesignCantilever bridge
MaterialSteel
Trough constructionSteel
Pier constructionReinforced concrete
History
Engineering design byParsons, Brinckerhoff, Hall and MacDonald[6]
Constructed byVirginia Bridge Company[7]
Construction start
  • October 19, 1950[8] (original bridge, later converted to northbound only traffic, reverted to two way traffic in 1980)
  • 1967 (southbound span)
Construction end
  • 1954 (northbound span)
  • 1971 (southbound span)
Construction cost$22,250,000 (original bridge)[9]
OpenedSeptember 6, 1954; 69 years ago (1954-09-06) (original bridge)
InauguratedSeptember 6, 1954 (1954-09-06)
CollapsedMay 9, 1980; 43 years ago (1980-05-09) (southbound)
ClosedApril 20, 1987; 36 years ago (1987-04-20) (northbound original span, closed as two way)
ReplacedBee Line Ferry
Replaced byBob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, sometimes referred to as the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the Sunshine Skyway, or simply "the Skyway", is a pair of long beam bridges with a central tall cable-stayed bridge that spans Lower Tampa Bay to connect Pinellas County (St. Petersburg, Florida) to Manatee County (Terra Ceia, Florida). The current Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987 and is the second bridge of that name on the site. It was designed by the Figg & Muller Engineering Group and built by the American Bridge Company.[10] The bridge is considered the flagship bridge of Florida and serves as a gateway to Tampa Bay.[11] The four-lane bridge carries Interstate 275 and U.S. Route 19, passing through Pinellas County, Hillsborough County and Manatee County. It is a toll bridge, with a toll assessed on two-axle vehicles traveling in either direction at a rate of $1.75 cash or $1.16 with the state's SunPass system.[12]

The original Sunshine Skyway was a two-lane beam bridge with a central truss bridge built directly to the west of the current structure. It was completed in 1954, and a second span was added in 1971.[13]

The original Skyway was the site of two major maritime disasters over a four-month period, the second of which resulted in its partial destruction. The first incident was on the night of January 28, 1980, when the United States Coast Guard cutter Blackthorn collided with the tanker Capricorn in the western approach to the bridge, resulting in the sinking of the cutter with the loss of 23 crew members in the worst peacetime disaster in the history of the US Coast Guard. The second incident came on the morning of May 9, 1980, when the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a support pier near the center of the bridge during a sudden squall, resulting in the catastrophic failure of the southbound roadway and the deaths of 35 people when several vehicles, including a Greyhound bus, plunged into Tampa Bay.[14] Traffic was diverted onto the surviving two-lane span for several years until the replacement Skyway Bridge was completed, at which time the old bridge was partially demolished and converted into a long fishing pier. Owing to the incident, the current bridge incorporates numerous safety features to protect the structure from ship collisions, as it spans a narrow channel into one of the busiest shipping lanes in the United States.

History[edit]

Precursors and proposals[edit]

In 1924, J.G. "Jim" Foley, a realtor, and his partner Charles R. Carter joined with James E. Bussey, an attorney, to create the Bee Line Ferry Company. The service started on March 7, 1927, and originally had two ferries: Fred D. Doty and the City of Wilmington (which was later renamed Pinellas). The ferry crossed from the end of Bay Vista Park in St. Petersburg and went to Piney Point on the other side of the bay.[15]

A physiotherapist from St. Petersburg named Herman Simmonds proposed building a "high-level suspension bridge" in 1926.[8] Sometime during 1927, Simmonds received congressional approval and a permit from the US War Department to build a bridge, but efforts were put on hold due to the Great Depression.[16]

The Florida Legislature gave the Bee Line Ferry a franchise for 50 years to operate in 1929.[17] Another unsuccessful proposal to build a crossing occurred in 1929 when a bill was introduced into the state legislature to build a tunnel crossing lower Tampa Bay running from Pinellas Point to Piney Point, with the tunnel itself being buried 40 ft (12 m) under the bay and going for a length of 1,000 ft (300 m). This proposal was not successful in the end, though, with unspecified "Tampa officials" arguing that any bridge or tunnel would be a navigational hazard during periods of wartime.[18]

The ferry service continued to expand, with the Fred D. Doty replaced by another ferry called the Manatee in 1932. A fourth vessel, the Sarasota, was bought and put into service in 1937. Ferries departed every 30 minutes between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. during the winter. In the summer, they departed every 45 minutes.[15] The ferry company ceased operating when the federal government confiscated the boats as they needed them for the World War II war effort in 1942.[19]

At close to the same time when the proposal from Simmonds ended, another proposal originating from Louis E. Saupe emerged. Saupe, the head of the West Coast Bridge and Tunnel Co., wanted a combination of a causeway and a tunnel. The causeway portion would go from Maximo Point to Mullet Key, while the tunnel portion would run for less than 12 mile (0.80 km) before transitioning to a causeway until reaching Terra Ceia. Pinellas County commissioners liked the idea and agreed to it. In 1939, they pushed state officials to approve it, and the state legislature agreed to back it. Since the bridge would cross into part of Hillsborough County, which was not included in the bill for the bridge, it was declared unconstitutional.[20]

In 1944, the St. Petersburg Port Authority bought the franchise from the company that operated the ferry. They continued to operate the ferry until the opening of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.[16]

Bail, Horton, and Associates, along with Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Hogan & Macdonald received a contract from the port authority on December 20, 1944, to design the bridge. Both firms released a report in November 1945 about the bridge.[19] Freeman Horton of Bail, Horton and Associates proposed Snead Island as its southern terminus and 10th Street in Palmetto as the thoroughfare.[21] Bail, Horton, and Associates was awarded the contract but as it was unable to get $10 million in revenue bonds, the state government halted the project sometime during the late 1940s. The design competition was reactivated again in the early 1950s with Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Hogan & Macdonald getting the contract this time[19] and they ended up serving as the engineers for construction and design. The partner-in-charge for Brinckerhoff was M. N. Quade. The successful attempt for building the bridge came after the Florida State Improvement Commission was approached with a proposal that they finance it while the State Road Department (SRD) built it. The Florida's State Improvement Commission proceeded to at some point take over the St. Petersburg Port Authority's assets which included $520,000 seen with bonded indebtedness. A $21,250,000 bond issue was passed by the Improvement Commission and sales started after the Port Authority's assets were acquired.[22]

Naming the bridge[edit]

On July 4, 1950, a day-long "Spans Across the Bay" festival was held in St. Petersburg to celebrate the approval of the long-awaited bridge and to announce its name. The St. Pete Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Florida State Road Department had conducted a nationwide contest to name the structure, with the rules dictating that it should not be named after a specific person or geographic place.[13] Over 20,000 entries were submitted, and at the celebration on the Fourth of July, Virginia Seymore of nearby Indian Rocks Beach was announced as the winner for her submission of "Sunshine Skyway".[16]

Construction of original bridge[edit]

Construction bids began to be accepted in July 1950[16] and construction started on October 19, 1950[8] with 544 workers.[13] It was built by the Virginia Bridge Company[23] and another firm that was involved doing engineering work was Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Hall and McDonald.[24] Staging areas for the construction of the bridge were established at both crossing sites. An entire concrete factory was established near Piney Point while prefabricated concrete parts were delivered via barge from a site in Tampa where they were made.[16] 4,100,000 cubic yards (3,100,000 m3) of material was dredged as part of building the causeways for the bridge. To physically build the bridge, 12,104,000 lb (5,490 t) of structural steel, 8,536,700 lb (3,872 t) of rebar and 115,980 cubic yards (88,670 m3) of concrete were used.[13]

Original bridge[edit]

A postcard depicting the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge

The original two-lane bridge opened to traffic on September 6, 1954.[9][25] At the time of the bridge's opening it was among the longest bridges on Earth and it was the longest continuous bridge in the United States.[13] Notable participants in opening ceremonies that day were: US senator and former governor Spessard Holland, former governors Charley E. Johns and Fuller Warren along with James Melton and General James Van Fleet. Delegations from ten Florida counties participated that day.[26] On the day the original bridge opened, it was toll free from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.[25] A reported 15,086 cars crossed the bridge starting at 11:40 a.m. when opening ceremonies ended and 11 p.m. when the toll-free time ended.[27]

The bridge's central span was 22,373 ft (6,819 m) long with a 864 ft (263 m) opening for a ship channel. It consisted of 32 concrete piers set every 135 ft (41 m) with the exception of the ship channel and the bridge went upwards at a 5% grade.[9] Two lanes were used for it with no passing allowed. The original maximum speed limit was 45 mph (72 km/h) and the minimum was 35 mph (56 km/h). The lack of illumination made the bridge dark at night.[13] The bridge was not easily accessible, however, and drivers often had to take detours to reach it. U.S. Route 19's final segment, which ended at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, opened on July 19, 1955.[8]

Second span[edit]

In 1969, a second two-lane span was built beside the original to ease traffic and bring the bridge up to Interstate Highway standards. Opening of the newer span was delayed until 1971 for reinforcing of the south main pier, which had cracked due to insufficient supporting pile depth.[28] It was dedicated on May 19, 1971.[29] Both Governor Reuben Askew and the mayor of Bradenton, B.T. Arbuckle, attended the second span's dedication.[30] The second span was used for all southbound traffic, while the original span was converted to carry only northbound traffic.

1980 collapse[edit]

A vehicle stopped just short of the collapsed portion of the bridge, May 9, 1980
View of the current bridge (top) and the old bridges: The piers of the current bridge are protected by structural dolphins. The collapsed bridge is under demolition.

The southbound span (opened in 1971) of the original bridge was destroyed on the morning of May 9, 1980, when the 606 ft (185 m) freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a support column during a sudden squall, causing the catastrophic failure of over 1,200 ft (370 m) of the span.

Several vehicles were at the top of the bridge when almost a quarter-mile of roadway fell away beneath them while others drove off the edge, either because the drivers did not notice the collapse in the driving rain or could not stop quickly enough in the wet conditions.[31] In all, six cars, a truck, and a Greyhound bus plummeted 150 ft (46 m) into Tampa Bay, resulting in 35 deaths.[32] A few drivers, including former Major League Baseball player Granny Hamner, were able to stop their vehicles before reaching the gap, and as seen in many photographs of the aftermath, a Buick Skylark driven by local car dealer Richard Hornbuckle skidded to a halt just two feet from the chasm.[33][34][35]

In the water below, several small official and private boats and a transportation department diving team arrived soon after the intense but narrow squall line cleared the vicinity. However, the frantic rescue effort became a recovery operation, as only victims' bodies were found.[36] The only survivor of the fall was Wesley MacIntire, whose Ford Courier pickup truck had bounced off the hull of the Summit Venture and into the water. The truck sank to the shallow bottom of the bay, but MacIntire managed to escape and swim to the surface, where he was quickly pulled to safety aboard the freighter.[37] He sued the company that owned the ship and won a $175,000 settlement in 1984 ($513,000 today).[38]

John Lerro, the veteran harbor pilot who was steering the ship at the time of the accident, was cleared of wrongdoing by both a state grand jury and a Coast Guard investigation. The investigations concluded that the inbound freighter had been in the process of maneuvering into the narrow channel under the center of the bridge when a microburst containing sudden torrential rains and 70 mph (110 km/h) winds cut visibility to near zero and temporarily rendered the ship's radar useless.[39][40][41] Lerro put the ship's engines into full reverse and ordered the emergency dropping of the anchor when he realized that the freighter had left the channel, but the forward momentum of the 20,000-ton ship along with strong winds from astern pushed the bow into support beams to the right of the shipping lane.[42] While the main support pier nearest to the channel withstood the strike with only minor damage, a secondary support pier just to the south was not designed to withstand such an impact and failed catastrophically, causing the entire center of the southbound span to collapse at 7:38 a.m.[28]

Replacement bridge[edit]

Soon after the disaster, the undamaged northbound span was converted back to a two-lane, two-way bridge while the state of Florida considered proposals for a replacement. Ideas included the construction of a tunnel (which was deemed impractical due to Florida's high water table) and a simple reconstruction of the broken section of the old bridge, which would not widen the narrow shipping lane. Governor Bob Graham's idea to build a "signature" cable-stayed bridge with a span that would be 50% wider than that of the old Skyway Bridge won out over other proposals. In addition to a wider shipping lane, the channel would be marked by a 14 mi (400 m)-long series of large concrete barriers, and the support piers would be protected by massive concrete "dolphins".[43]

Construction began in January 1983 with the pounding of pilings for the foundation, and work on the main piers began the following September. The complicated project was delayed several times by bad weather and various difficulties in construction, and the planned opening was pushed back several times.[44][45] Finally, the opening ceremony was set for April 30, 1987. However, on April 29 at about 3:30 p.m., the new bridge's protective bumpers were hit head-on by the Deliverance, a 74-foot (23 m) shrimp boat. The bumper sustained minor damage and the bridge was not affected, but the vessel took on water and was towed out of the channel into shallow waters, where it promptly sank. The opening ceremonies proceeded as scheduled.[46]

Demolition of former bridge[edit]

In 1990, the FDOT awarded a bid to Hardaway Company (owner of Controlled Demolition, Inc.) to demolish all steel and concrete sections of the older Sunshine Skyway spans.[47] The scope of the project required that all underwater piles and piers, and surface roadway, girders, and beams, be dismantled. Special care had to be taken in removing underwater bridge elements near the channel, and the central portion of the original bridge had to be removed in one piece to minimize closure of the only approach to the busy Port of Tampa.[48] Most of the concrete material was used to create an artificial reef near the southbound approach of the old bridge, which was converted into a long pier for newly created Skyway Fishing Pier State Park. Unused approaches to the original spans were demolished in 2008.

Wesley MacIntire, the only motorist survivor of the collapse, was the last person to drive over the intact original span before it was demolished. Accompanied by his wife, he stopped at the apex of the bridge and dropped 35 white carnations into the water, one for each person who died in the disaster.[49][50]

Issues and concerns[edit]

Suicides[edit]

At least 316 people have died by suicide by jumping from the bridge or its predecessors into the waters of Tampa Bay. An estimated 48 others have survived.[51] Many other missing persons are suspected of having jumped from the bridge, but their deaths could not be confirmed, as no bodies were recovered.

In response to the high number of suicide attempts from the bridge, Florida installed six crisis hotline phones along the center span in 1999, and began 24-hour patrols. As of 2003, the call center at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay received 18 calls from potential jumpers, all of whom survived, according to a 2003 St. Petersburg Times report.[52] However, the bridge saw an average of one jump per month, reaching a record high of 18 suicides in 2018.[53]

In 2006, a feature film, Loren Cass, was released, which depicted a suicide jump off the Sunshine Skyway.[54] Two years later, Sean Michael Davis of Rhino Productions was inspired by his haunting experience witnessing a woman get out of her car and immediately jump off the bridge before anyone could intervene to create a not-for-profit film titled Skyway Down. His objectives were to deter other potential jumpers by "'punch[ing] them in the face' with interviews with survivors and family members",[55] to give them "hope and to try to de-glorify the romanticism of the bridge",[56] in part by informing those who have "mulled a leap to know about the bloody, battered aftermath."[55]

In 2020, the FDOT installed the Skyway Vertical Net, a vertical fence designed to deter suicide attempts.[57] The fencing was placed atop the bridge's waist-high concrete barriers, creating an overall "wall" almost 11 ft (3.4 m) tall which runs for about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) along the highest portions of the bridge.[53] The fence is designed to dissuade potential jumpers or at least slow them down long enough that law enforcement officials can reach them. The number of jumpers has been drastically reduced since the project's completion in June 2021, with only five reported over the ensuing 29 months.[53][58]

As on any Florida controlled-access highway, pedestrians and bicycles are prohibited.[59] Stopping on the bridge for any nonemergency, including sightseeing, is prohibited. Traffic on the bridge is monitored by the Florida Highway Patrol, and a bicyclist, pedestrian, or stopped vehicle results in a police dispatch.

Corrosion[edit]

A major problem with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is corrosion of the steel in the precast concrete segmental columns on the high-level approaches. Because the segments are hollow, workers were able to enter the bridge superstructure in 2003 and 2004 to reinforce the corroded sections of the bridge, ensuring its future safety.[60] Another problem arose around 2005–06 when several news bureaus reported paint discolorations on the bridge's cables. These paint splotches and patches were a result of touch-ups that were performed sometime in 1998, but began to show through as a result of using newer, environmentally safe paint. The change in the paint's composition caused it to fade faster than expected.

From 2006 to 2008, FDOT hired a contractor to perform the first full repainting of the bridge since it opened in 1987. The work included repainting the bridge's 42 steel cables one consistent shade of yellow and rehabilitating the lighting system at the summit of the bridge.[61] In 2022–2023, the yellow steel cables were repainted and corrosion protection was added to the ship impact system on each side of the channel.[62]

Low clearance[edit]

A 2014 FDOT study noted that the Skyway's low bridge clearance prevented larger vessels from using the Port Tampa Bay terminals, but made no recommendation about options, as the air draft of most new cruise ships exceeds the bridge's height limit at 180 ft (55 m).[63]

Traffic[edit]

Usage and tourism[edit]

The former and current bridges have been featured in various forms of media. The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge is featured in Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and the opening credits to Superboy. The current bridge has provided the setting for several films such as Loren Cass and The Punisher. The bridge also served as plot devices to various novels such as Dennis Lehane's 1997 novel Sacred[64] and Ben Bova's 2005 novel Powersat.[65] The bridge is also the subject of the song "Skyway Avenue" by We the Kings.[66] The current bridge is also a popular filming location for car commercials.[67]

The United States Postal Service featured the bridge in 2012 on a Priority Mail postage stamp. Carl T. Hermann worked on the painting and the digital illustration was created by artist Dan Cosgrove.[68]

In 2005, an act of the Florida Legislature officially named the current bridge the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, after the former governor of Florida and then-U.S. Senator who presided over its design and most of its construction. He reportedly was inspired to suggest the current design by a visit to France, where he saw a similar cable-stayed bridge, the Brotonne Bridge. The original bridge was dedicated to state engineer William E. Dean, as noted on a plaque displayed at the rest area at the south end of the bridge.

In November 2017, work began on installing decorative lighting to the skyway's columns, main spans, and sloped spans.[11] The $15.6 million lighting project provides a visual aesthetic while also enhancing safety and security by providing more light to the underside of the bridge from dusk to dawn. Over 1,800 light-emitting diodes were installed along 1.7 mi (2.7 km) of the bridge, which cycle through animated routines. The lighting project was completed in October 2019 and funded by FDOT through collected toll fees.[69]

Skyway 10K[edit]

On January 11, 1987, the Skyway Bridge opened up to 10,000 runners, joggers, and walkers before the bridge was opened to motor-vehicle traffic the following week. Runners participated in four races that ran simultaneously across the bridge, with two races going southbound and two races directed northbound. Publicity and posters for the race referred to it by the humorous title "20,000 Feet Above the Sea",[70] a reference to the Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

On March 4, 2018, in partnership with the Armed Forces Families Foundation, the Skyway Bridge was closed for the Inaugural Skyway 10K.[71] In contrast to the one-time race in 1987, the Skyway 10K has been held annually since 2018, with the exception of 2021, as it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was to be held virtually instead.[72]

Gallery[edit]

Old bridge demolition[edit]

Current bridge[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bergen, Katy (August 16, 2014). "If Skyway Run Gets Approval, Appeal Could Be Widespread". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Archived from the original on May 5, 2015. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
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  3. ^ "History Of the Sunshine Skyway". July 21, 2017. Archived from the original on November 9, 2019.
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  5. ^ "Florida Bridge Information, 2024 1st Quarter" (PDF). Florida Department of Transportation. January 3, 2024. p. 224. Retrieved January 29, 2024.
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  7. ^ Hartman Litho Sales Co. "Moonlight Over Sunshine Skyway Bridge". Manatee County Public Library System: Digital Collection (Postcard). Archived from the original on October 28, 2022. Retrieved October 28, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d Wilson, Jon (2013). "A BRIDGE, A ROAD, A PLAZA". The Golden Era in St. Petersburg: Postwar Prosperity in The Sunshine City. History Press. ISBN 9781614238928. Archived from the original on April 16, 2023. Retrieved March 19, 2023.
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  38. ^ "Suit in Bridge Fall Settlement". The New York Times. May 6, 1984. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
  39. ^ Heller, Jean (May 7, 2000). "Memories Stay with Man at Command of the Ship". St. Petersburg Times. Archived from the original on December 11, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2007.
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