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Sunshine Skyway Bridge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
SunshineSkywayBridge-4SC 6643-15.jpg
Coordinates27°37′30″N 82°39′30″W / 27.62500°N 82.65833°W / 27.62500; -82.65833
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
Total length4.14 miles (6.7 km)
Width94 feet (29 m)
Height430 feet (131 m)[1]
Longest span1,200 feet (366 m)
Clearance below180.5 feet (55 m)[2]
No. of lanes4
Engineering design byFigg & Muller Engineering Group
Constructed byAmerican Bridge Company
Construction startJune 1982[3][4]
Construction cost$244 million (equivalent to $558 million in 2019 dollars)
OpenedApril 20, 1987; 34 years ago (1987-04-20)
ReplacesSunshine Skyway Bridge
Daily traffic63,607 (2020)[5]
Toll$1.50 for passenger cars or $1.07 with SunPass
Sunshine Skyway Bridge (former)
Sunshine Skyway Bridge 3.JPG
Coordinates27°37′30″N 82°39′30″W / 27.625°N 82.65833°W / 27.625; -82.65833
Carries4 lanes of US 19 (as two separate 2-lane bridges for each direction)
DesignCantilever bridge
Trough constructionSteel
Pier constructionReinforced concrete
Construction start
  • 1950 (original bridge, later converted to northbound only traffic)
  • 1967 (southbound span)
Construction end
  • 1954 (northbound span)
  • 1971 (southbound span)
OpenedSeptember 6, 1954; 66 years ago (1954-09-06) (original bridge)
InauguratedSeptember 6, 1954 (1954-09-06)
CollapsedMay 9, 1980; 41 years ago (1980-05-09)
ReplacesBee Line Ferry
Replaced bySunshine Skyway Bridge

The Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, often referred to as the Sunshine Skyway Bridge or simply the Skyway, is a cable-stayed bridge spanning the Lower Tampa Bay connecting St. Petersburg, Florida to Terra Ceia. 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 and is considered a symbol of Florida.[6]

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 road, with a $1.50 toll assessed on two-axle vehicles traveling in either direction and collected via cash or the state's SunPass system.[7]

The original bridge opened in 1954 and was the site of two major maritime disasters within a few months in 1980. In January 1980, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collided with the tanker Capricorn near the bridge, resulting in the sinking of the cutter and the loss of 23 crew members. In May 1980, the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a bridge support during a sudden squall, resulting in the structural collapse of the southbound span and the deaths of 35 people when vehicles plunged into Tampa Bay.[8] Within a few years, the damaged span was demolished, the surviving span was partially demolished and converted into a long fishing pier, and the current bridge was built.


Original bridge

The original two-lane bridge was built by the Virginia Bridge Company and opened to traffic on September 6, 1954,[9][10] with a similar structure built parallel and to the west of it in 1969 to make it a four-lane bridge and bring it 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.[11] The second span was used for all southbound traffic, while the original span was converted to carry northbound traffic.

The old bridge replaced a ferry from Point Pinellas at the southeastern tip of St.Petersburg to Piney Point located just north of Port Manatee. US 19 was extended from St. Petersburg to its current end north of Palmetto.

1980 collapse

The collapsed original bridge on May 9, 1980, after the Summit Venture collision
The collapsed original bridge on May 9, 1980, after the Summit Venture collision
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 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 at 7:38 a.m. on May 9, 1980, when the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a pier (support column) during a sudden squall, sending over 1,200 feet (370 m) of the bridge plummeting into Tampa Bay. The collision caused six cars, a truck, and a Greyhound bus to fall 150 feet (46 m) into the water, killing 35 people.[12][13] One man, Wesley MacIntire, survived, although, contrary to belief, his Ford Courier pickup truck did not land on the deck of the Summit Venture and roll into the water; rather, it flew into the hull on the port side, ricocheted off and sank.[14] He sued the company that owned the ship, and settled in 1984 for $175,000 ($436,000 today).[15] Several other drivers - including former Major League Baseball player Granny Hamner - were able to stop their vehicles before reaching the gap in the roadway.[16]

John Lerro, the harbor pilot who had been steering the ship, was later cleared of wrongdoing by both a state grand jury and a Coast Guard investigation. A microburst had suddenly hit the freighter with torrential rains and 70 mph (110 km/h) winds as it was in the middle of a turn in the shipping channel nearing the bridge, cutting visibility to near zero and temporarily rendering the ship's radar useless.[17][18][19] Lerro put the ship's engines into full reverse and ordered the emergency dropping of the anchor as soon as he realized that the freighter was out of the channel, but the bow still hit two support piers with enough force to cause a portion of the roadway to collapse.[20] The south main pier withstood the ship strike without significant damage, but a secondary pier to the south was not designed to withstand such an impact and failed catastrophically.[11]


After the Summit Venture disaster, the southbound span was used as a temporary fishing pier and the northbound span was converted back to carry one lane in either direction until the current bridge opened. Before the old bridge was demolished and hauled away in barges, MacIntire (the only survivor in the collapse) was the last person 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 died in the disaster.[21] Both the main spans of both the intact northbound bridge and the damaged southbound bridge were demolished in 1993 and the approaches for both old spans were made into the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park. These approaches sit 12 mile (800 m) to the south and west of the current bridge. The approaches of the 1950s span were demolished in 2008.

Gov. 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 14 mile (400 m) in either direction are surrounded by large concrete barriers, called "dolphins", that can protect the bridge piers from collisions by ships larger than the Summit Venture like tankers, container ships, and cruise ships.[22]

Demolition of former bridge

In 1990 FDOT awarded the winning bid to Hardaway Company to demolish all steel and concrete sections of the older Sunshine Skyway Bridge.[23] 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.[24]

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.[citation needed]

After extensive research, the engineering team developed a 4 × 1:16 ratio pulley system where each of the four corners of the span was connected to two 25-ton winches (bolted to the pavement of the deck). These winches controlled the descent of the main 360-foot (110 m), 608-ton span to a barge anchored 150 feet (46 m) below. As part of the project design, the engineering team developed a real-time, computerized, synchronized descent calculator and control program to help each of the two winch management teams ensure that all winches were synchronized at the same 30 feet (9.1 m) per minute descent rate. The operation was executed successfully in 2+12 hours despite adverse weather conditions.[25]



At least 310 people have committed suicide by jumping from the bridge or its predecessors into the waters of Tampa Bay. An estimated 43 others have survived.[26] 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, 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 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.[27]

In 2006, a feature film Loren Cass was released, which depicted a suicide jump off the Sunshine Skyway.[28] Two years later, a second filmmaker, Sean Michael Davis of Rhino Productions, was inspired by his haunting experience witnessing a woman jump off the bridge so quickly that no one could intervene, to create a not-for-profit film titled Skyway Down. His objectives: to deter other potential jumpers by " 'punch[ing] them in the face' with interviews with survivors and family members",[29] to give them "hope and to try to de-glorify the romanticism of the bridge",[30] in part by informing those who have "mulled a leap to know about the bloody, battered aftermath."[29]

In January 2020, FDOT announced they will install the Skyway Vertical Net, a vertical barrier in an effort to deter suicide attempts.[31] Construction for the project is expected to begin in fall 2020 and completed by early 2021. The vertical barrier will be placed on the outside walls of the bridge and extend vertically 8 feet (2.4 m) from the side barriers. It will span each side of the bridge for about 1.5 miles (2.4 km).[32]

As part of any Florida controlled-access highway, pedestrians and bicycles are prohibited.[33] Stopping on the bridge for any non-emergency, including sightseeing, is prohibited. Traffic on the bridge is monitored by the Florida Highway Patrol, and a stopped vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian will elicit a police dispatch.


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.[34] 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, Florida Department of Transportation (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.[35]

Low clearance

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 feet (55 m).[36]


Usage and tourism

The former and current bridge 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[37] and Ben Bova's 2005 novel Powersat.[38] The bridge is also the subject of the song "Skyway Avenue" by We the Kings.[39]

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.[40]

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. According to sources[which?], he 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.[41] 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 LEDs were installed along 1.7 miles (2.7 km) of the bridge which cycles through animated routines. The lighting project was completed in October 2019 and funded by FDOT through collected toll fees.[42]

Skyway 10K

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.[43]

On March 4, 2018, in partnership with the Armed Forces Families Foundation, the Skyway Bridge was closed for the Inaugural Skyway 10K.[44] In contrast to the one-time race in 1987, the Skyway 10K has been held annually since 2018.


Old bridge demolition

Current bridge

See also


  1. ^ Bergen, Katy (August 16, 2014). "If Skyway Run Gets Approval, Appeal Could Be Widespread". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  2. ^ "Summary for FDOT Research Project BDV31-977-43, Sunshine Skyway Bridge Monitoring Phase 1: System Assessment and Integration Recommendations" (PDF). Florida Department of Transportation. December 2016. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  3. ^ "History Of the Sunshine Skyway". Archived from the original on November 9, 2019.
  4. ^ "Sunshine Skyway Bridge - AA Roads". Archived from the original on November 9, 2019.
  5. ^ "Florida Bridge Information, 2021 2nd Quarter" (PDF). Florida Department of Transportation. April 1, 2021. p. 219. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  6. ^ "The Greatest American Bridges (& What We Can Learn from Them)". Bridge Masters. September 30, 2016. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
  7. ^ Henson, Chuck (April 30, 2018). "SunPass confusion clogs Sunshine Skyway tolls". Spectrum News / Bay News 9. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  8. ^ Nunez, Judy Kay. "28 January 1980, Blackthorn and Capricorn: Collision with History in Tampa Bay". Florida State University Libraries. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
  9. ^ "Tampa Bay Crossing Spans 14 Miles of Tidewater". Popular Mechanics. Hearst Magazines. August 1954. pp. 72–73 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ "Thousands cross Sunshine Skyway Span". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. September 7, 1954. p. 1 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ a b[self-published source]
  12. ^ "A Blinding Squall, then Death". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
  13. ^ Heller, Jean (May 7, 2000). "The Day Skyway Fell: May 9, 1980". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved July 4, 2007.
  14. ^ "The Skyway Bridge tragedy at 40: The survivor". St. Pete Catalyst. May 8, 2020. Retrieved August 11, 2020.
  15. ^ "Suit in Bridge Fall Settlement". The New York Times. May 6, 1984. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
  16. ^ Conlin, Bill (September 15, 1993). "A Date with Fate Hamner Once Survived Collapse of Bridge over Troubled Waters". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  17. ^ Heller, Jean (May 7, 2000). "Memories Stay with Man at Command of the Ship". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved July 4, 2007.
  18. ^ OLIVER, MYRNA (September 9, 2002). "John Lerro, 59; Harbor Pilot Haunted by Role in Deadly Bridge Accident". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  19. ^ Thalji, Jamal (May 8, 2018). "The Sunshine Skyway Bridge plunged into Tampa Bay 38 years ago". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  20. ^ Sussingham, Robin. "Remembering the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Collapse". (May 8, 2015). WUSF-FM. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  21. ^ Wright, E. Lynne (2006). Disasters and Heroic Rescues of Florida. Morris Book Publishing. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-7627-3984-4.
  22. ^ "Building big: Databank: Sunshine Skyway Bridge". PBS Online. Retrieved July 4, 2007.
  23. ^ "Sunshine Skyway Bridge". Controlled Demolition, Inc. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  24. ^ Meinheardt, Jane (September 8, 1991). "Demolition day nears for old Skyway". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  25. ^ King, Robert (September 25, 1991). "Chunk of Old Skyway Dismantled". The Bradenton Herald. p. 1B.
  26. ^
  27. ^ Jones, Jamie (October 6, 2003). "Skyway Safeguards Don't Deter Jumpers". St. Petersburg Times. Archived from the original on March 28, 2018. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  28. ^ Wilson, Jon (October 11, 2006). "Movie will have its first local viewing". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved May 28, 2007.
  29. ^ a b Sanders, Katie (June 13, 2010). "Filmmaker haunted by Sunshine Skyway bridge suicide hopes documentary will deter others". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved September 21, 2012.
  30. ^ "Skyway Down: A Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem; A Film Project". Retrieved September 21, 2012.
  31. ^ Tatham, Chelsea (January 9, 2020). "FDOT to install suicide prevention barrier on Sunshine Skyway Bridge". WTSP. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  32. ^ "I-275 Skyway Bridge Vertical Net". FDOT Tampa Bay. Retrieved July 16, 2020.
  33. ^ "Florida Statutes, Section 316.130: Pedestrians; traffic regulations". Florida Legislature. 2019. Subsection 18: No pedestrian shall walk upon a limited access facility or a ramp connecting a limited access facility to any other street or highway; however, this subsection does not apply to maintenance personnel of any governmental subdivision.
  34. ^ Garcia, Jose. "The Skyway Bridge: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" (PDF). Florida Department of Transportation. Retrieved March 18, 2007.
  35. ^ Ave, Melanie (July 14, 2006). "Soon, a mellow yellow". St. Petersburg Times. Archived from the original on July 17, 2006. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  36. ^ Kennedy, Sara (July 8, 2014). "Study offers options for Cruise Ships too tall for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge". Bradenton Herald. Retrieved February 12, 2018.
  37. ^ Lehane, Dennis (2013). Sacred (First William Morrow Paperback ed.). HarperCollins. p. 233. ISBN 9780062224040.
  38. ^ Powersat by Ben Bova, 2005: pp 56-58. TOR Books - New York
  39. ^ We the Kings by We the Kings, October 2, 2007, retrieved July 24, 2018
  40. ^ "Sunshine Skyway Bridge to be on postage stamp". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. December 30, 2011. Retrieved February 27, 2012.
  41. ^ "I-275 (Sunshine Skyway Bridge) Lighting Factsheet". Florida Department of Transportation. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  42. ^ Becnel, Thomas (August 17, 2019). "Sunshine Skyway will get colorful lighting display in October". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  43. ^ "Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida on January 1, 1987 · 100". Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  44. ^ "Skyway 10K". SKYWAY 10K. Retrieved March 14, 2018.

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This page was last edited on 6 June 2021, at 23:44
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