The Sunshine Skyway is a cable-stayed
bridge that spans the mouth of Tampa Bay
, from the tip of Pinellas County, Florida
to near Bradenton, FL
in Manatee County, Florida
. It was the site of one of the worst bridge disasters in history.
Though it never touches land in Hillsborough County, Florida
, and is quite far from any point in that county, much of the bridge is technically in the county. Hillsborough controls the middle part of the mouth of the bay because it leads to their coast – none of the county is on the Gulf of Mexico
. All ships docking at the port of Tampa
, the busiest and biggest port on Florida’s west coast, must cross under the bridge on the way to Tampa
The first bridge opened in 1954
. It was 15 miles long and had a clearance of 150 feet. Two lanes of traffic wasn’t enough, so a second parallel bridge was opened in 1971
, adding two more lanes. Over the next decade, four ships bumped into the bridge. As if that wasn’t enough of a bad omen, the freighter Capricorn
collided with a Coast Guard cutter
, the USS Blackthorn
, killing 23 of the cutter’s crew.
On May 9, 1980
, at 7:38 in the morning, the empty phosphate
freighter Summit Venture
), captained by one John Perro, was fighting its way through a nasty storm when it slammed in one of the piers of the west bridge, the southbound one. 1261 feet of bridge was knocked into the water, and 35 people fell to their deaths in Tampa Bay, including all the occupants of a Greyhound Bus
bound for Miami
. One lucky man survived the plunge because he never actually made it into the water – his truck crashed onto the deck of the freighter.
Commuters had to make do with the two lanes on the east bridge until the new Sunshine Skyway was opened in 1987
, at a cost of $245 million. This one has a higher clearance of 193 feet, and it feels like you’re going straight up when you drive it. It’s also supposed to withstand ship impacts better than the old bridge, but no one has tested that claim yet, thankfully. The old bridge was demolished in 1990
and bits of it near land were converted into fishing piers.
Recently, it was discovered that the bridge wasn’t exactly made to last, as they have found corrosion in some of the steel in the columns, a problem which has occurred in bridges of similar design around the world. Also, the bridge tends to be a popular spot for suicide
Cool pictures can be found at http://www.geocities.com/pagesbydave/SunSkyDemoHis.html