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The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a bridge spanning Tampa Baymarker, Floridamarker, with a cable-stayed main span, and a length of 29,040 feet (exactly 5.5 miles or approximately 8.85 km). It is part of I-275 (SR 93) and US 19 (SR 55), connecting St. Petersburgmarker in Pinellas Countymarker and Terra Ceiamarker in Manatee County, Floridamarker, passing through Hillsborough Countymarker waters. Construction of the current bridge began in 1982, and the completed bridge was dedicated on February 7, 1987. The new bridge cost $244 million to build, and was opened to traffic on April 20, 1987. It replaced an older bridge constructed in 1954 and partly destroyed in a collision in 1980.

It is constructed of steel and concrete. Twenty-one steel cables clad in nine-inch (229 mm) steel tubes along the center line of the bridge support the structure. It was designed by the Figg & Muller Engineering Group, and built by the American Bridge Company.

In September 1994, an act of Florida Legislature officially named the current bridge the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, after the Governor of Florida and future U.S. Senator who presided over its design and most of its construction. According to sources, he was inspired to suggest the current design by a visit to France, where he saw a similar cable-stayed bridge. The original bridge was dedicated to state engineer William E Dean, as noted on a plaque displayed at the south rest area of the bridge.

The Travel Channel rated the Sunshine Skyway #3 in its special on the "Top 10 Bridges" in the World. The bridge is considered the "flag bridge" of Florida.

Because of its height above the emerald-green Gulf waters, length of continuous travel, location in a warm-weather state, and modern architectural design, it is a popular spot for filming automobile commercials.

One of the major problems with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is corrosion of the steel in the precast concrete segments. 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. Another problem arose around 2005–2006 when several news bureaus uncovered peeling paint on the bridge's cables. These paint splotches and patches were a result of touch-ups that were performed over the years but began to show through over recent years. In 2008, FDOT began an overhaul including repainting the cables in their entirety (instead of touching up), rehabilitating the lighting system at the summit of the bridge, as well as repainting the concrete retaining walls.

The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge

The present bridge replaces a steel cantilever bridge of the same name. The original two-lane bridge built by the Virginia Bridge Company was completed in 1954, with a similar structure built parallel to it in 1969 to make it a four-lane bridge and bring it to Interstate standards.

The old bridge replaced a ferry from Point Pinellas to Piney Point. US 19 was extended from St. Petersburgmarker to its current end north of Palmettomarker when the bridge opened. The engineer associated with its construction is Freeman Horton, who built the seawalls along the bay for Tampa and purchased Seagate from Powel Crosley following WWII.

The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge is featured in the old-time radio series "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" in the episode "The Fancy Bridgework Matter" (11/22/1959) and in the original opening credits to the 1988 Superboy TV series which showed the hero flying over the damaged original span and then turning to view the new bridge under construction.

The remaining approaches to the old cantilever bridge remain in use as Skyway Fishing Pier State Parkmarker.

The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge was the site of a number of tragic events, including the collision of the US Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn and outbound freighter Capricorn in 1980 which claimed 23 Coast Guardsmen's lives, and a structural collapse caused by a collision with the bridge support by the inbound freighter Summit Venture in 1980 which killed 35 people.

The Blackthorn tragedy

The was outbound from Tampa Baymarker, having just completed a total refit, as the tanker Capricorn was inbound. Having just been overtaken by a brightly-lit cruise ship, the Blackthorn had maneuvered into the center of the channel to allow the passenger ship to pass. As a consequence of the cruise ship's lights, the Blackthorn was unable to get a visual on the approaching Capricorn in the night's darkness. As the two ships approached, the Blackthorn gave two short whistles to signal its intention to pass to starboard as the Capricorn crowded the center of the channel. At some point, the Blackthorn, helmed by a junior officer, initiated evasive action but it was already too late. The two ships collided nearly head-on, with the anchor of the tanker imbedding itself in the hull plates of the cutter. At least 6 crewman of the Blackthorn were trapped by the mangled metal skin of the ship. As the ships' momentum carried each other along, the anchor line of the tanker grew taut and pulled the Blackthorn over, capsizing the smaller ship and resulting in the drowning deaths of 23 crew trapped on board and belowdecks, approximately 3/4 of a mile from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Following the accident, the Blackthorn was recovered and taken to drydock for postmortem analysis. Because it had been involved in a fatal accident, it was decided not to repair the vessel. She was stripped of her gear and had her mast and superstructure reduced. The hull was then towed offshore and intentionally sunk as an artificial reef.

1980 bridge disaster

The southbound span of the original bridge (built in 1969) was destroyed on May 9, 1980, when the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a pier (support column) during a storm, sending over 1200 feet (366m) of the bridge plummeting into Tampa Baymarker. The collision caused six automobiles and a Greyhound bus to fall 150 feet (46 m), killing 35 people.

One man, Wesley MacIntire, survived the fall when his Ford pickup truck landed on the deck of the Summit Venture before falling into the bay. He sued the company that owned the ship, and settled for $175,000 in 1984. For the remaining nine years of his life until he died in 1989, MacIntire was haunted by the fact that he was the only one to survive the fall from the collapsing bridge.

The pilot of the ship, John Lerro, was cleared of wrongdoing by both a state grand jury and a Coast Guard investigation.

After the Summit Venture disaster, the northbound span carried one lane in either direction until the current bridge opened. Before the old bridge was demolished and hauled away in barges, MacIntire (the sole survivor of the collapse) was the last person permitted to drive over it. He was accompanied by his wife, and when they reached the top of the bridge, they dropped 35 white carnations into the water, one for each person who lost a life in the disaster. The main span of the northbound bridge was demolished in 1993 and the approaches for both old spans were made into the Skyway Fishing Pier State Parkmarker. These approaches sit 1/2 mile (0.8 km) to the south and west of the current bridge.

Graham's idea for the design of the current bridge won out over other proposals, including a tunnel (deemed impractical due to Florida's high water table) and a simple reconstruction of the broken section of the old bridge that would not have improved shipping conditions. The new bridge's main span is 50% wider than the old bridge. The piers of the main span and the approaches for 1/4 mile (0.4 km) in either direction are surrounded by large concrete barriers called "dolphins" that can protect the bridge piers from collisions with freighters larger than the Summit Venture.

1992 demolition

In 1990 the Florida Department of Transportation awarded the winning bid to the Hardaway Company to demolish all steel and concrete sections of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. 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 shipping channel. Additionally, the concrete material, deck sections, pilings and steel girders were to be collected in order to be placed offshore and along the remaining bridge approaches to become artificial reefs for the new planned state fishing park. The main bridge span had to be removed in one piece in order not to block the main shipping canal leading to the port of Tampa.

During the disassembly work of the bridges’ structural steel members, several difficult engineering challenges had to be resolved: the order of disassembly, a safe method for detonating charges on concrete and steel members in a publicly open and difficult to control area such as the Tampa Bay, and the development of a safe methodology for the removal in one piece of the bridge’s main span and concrete piers.

After some extensive research, the engineering team developed a 4 x 1: 16 ratio pulley system where each of the 4 corners of the span was connected to two 25 ton winches (bolted to the deck of the pavement). These winches controlled the descent of the main , 608 ton span to a barge anchored below. As part of the solution, the engineering team developed a real time computerized, synchronized descent calculator and control program to help each of the two winch management teams insure that all winches were synchronized at the same per minute descent rate. The solution was executed successfully in 2 1/2 hours despite adverse weather conditions.

Bridge suicides

According to compilations from various media reports, at least 130 people have committed suicide by jumping from the center span into the waters of Tampa Bay since the opening of the new bridge in 1987 and an estimated 10 others have tried, but survived. A Rottweiler named Shasta survived after either following or being carried over the edge by its owner, who died. Another 51 people ended their lives from the old Sunshine Skyway from 1954-1987. Several 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 bridge's popularity as method of demise for the depressed, the State of Florida installed six crisis hotline phones along the center span in 1999, and began 24-hour patrols. As of 2003, the call center received 18 calls from potential jumpers, all of whom survived, according to a St. Petersburg Times report. However, the total number of jumpers has not significantly declined since the introduction of these safeguards.

On April 27, 1997 a group of amateur daredevils, led by a bartender from Ft. Lauderdale and composed of a mix of male and female participants, did an unannounced guerrilla "pendulum swing" bungee jump off the bridge, where they were to go back and forth on a home-made bungee cord made of steel cable attached to the cast-off point. Arriving by stretch limousine, the group unexpectedly pulled over at the apex of the bridge, quickly rigged up their cable, tethered themselves to it with harnesses, and jumped over the edge. This stunt failed when the plastic sheathing on the steel cable, unable to handle the increase gravitational forces exerted on it by the initial pendulum swing, sheared off and allowed the connecting clamps to slide freely off the cable, plunging the jumpers into the water, leading to broken bones and neck injuries. The entire accident was caught on multiple video cameras that had been set up to record the feat. When later interviewed for a television video program, the group's leader stated that all of the components were rated to handle the combined weight of the participants, and, at the time, he thought the assembly was safe. Later studies showed that his design had failed to take into account the increased g-load caused by the pendulum action of the jump itself, exceeding the ratings on the components and leading to catastrophic failure of the structural integrity of the bungee cable. Since the accident, no other groups have attempted to do a stunt jump from the bridge. This incident aired on Destroyed In Seconds on March 2, 2009.

In 2006 a feature film entitled Loren Cass was released which depicted a suicide jump off the Sunshine Skyway.

On October 12, 2009 a body was found in the trunk of a burning car. Witnesses saw a man carrying a gas can near the car. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper later saw the man jump from the bridge.


Current Bridge

Image:Skyway2.jpg|The bridge at twilightImage:SunshineSkyway_FortDeSoto.jpg|View of bridge from Fort De Soto Park's East BeachImage:SunshineSkyway1.jpg|Sunshine Skyway Bridge from South Pier rest areaImage:SunshineSkyway4.jpg|Driving on the bridge, near the peakImage:SunshineSkyway_ALB.jpg|View of bridge heading southImage:Sunshine Skyway from Tampa Bay.jpeg|As seen from the water of Tampa BayImage:IMG 0782.JPG|View while driving across Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Old Bridge demolition

Image:Skyway Bridge 1.jpg|Demolition of concrete structure and slab - South access roadImage:Skyway Bridge 2.jpg|Demolition of concrete structure and slab - North access roadImage:Skyway Bridge 3.jpg|Demolition of steel and concrete girdersImage:Skyway Bridge 4.jpg|Main bridge span secure on barge being towed awayImage:Blasting Concrete.jpg|Blasting concrete piersImage:Steel Blast 2.jpg|Blasting steel trussImage:Steel Blast 4.jpg|Blasting steel truss

Media Coverage

See also


  1. St. Petersburg Times
  3. Tampabay: Horrific accident created an unforgettable scene

External links

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