I was amazed to see the Sunshine Skyway finally earning its place on a postage stamp. After all, the current Sunshine Skyway – opened in 1987 – is a bridge that not only carries Interstate 275 and US 19, it is a iconic symbol of what we are in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.
The Sunshine Skyway is also a symbol of triumph over tragedy. Seven years before the current Sunshine Skyway opened tragedy struck on a rainy and stormy morning at 7:38 AM on 9 May 1980 when the Summit Venture collided with an anchor pier immediately adjacent to the main channel pier on the southbound span which opened in 1971. Upon impact the anchor pier was sheared off at its base causing a major chain of events which led to a majority of the southbound main span falling 150 feet into the waters of Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, 35 lives were lost that fateful morning which included passengers on a Miami-bound Greyhound Bus.
The northbound span – which was the original Sunshine Skyway built in 1954 – was undamaged. Shortly after the southbound span fell the northbound span was checked out by the Florida DOT for structural damage, and on Sunday, 11 May 1980 the northbound span was reopened to two-way traffic with a 45 mph (70 km/h) speed limit and a double yellow no passing line.
In the months following the Sunshine Skyway disaster a major decision had to be made: Either rebuild the southbound span to what it was before the accident or build an entirely new bridge. The reaction was mixed, with Pinellas and Manatee interests wanting to rebuild the southbound span and Hillsbiorough interests – after all, the main shipping channel is part of Hillsborough County as the Sunshine Skyway covers three counties – wanted an entirely new bridge which would be safer. Besides, Interstate 275 was under construction in St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway would be an important part of Interstate 275 as it would connect St. Petersburg with the newly extended Interstate 75 to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.
In the end, a newly constructed Sunshine Skyway won. Construction began in 1982 and dedication ceremonies were held in February 1987, followed by its formal opening in April 1987. The original 1954 Sunshine Skyway northbound span served its purpose carrying two way traffic from right after the accident on 9 May 1980 to when the new Sunshine Skyway opened. Four years later after the new Sunshine Skyway opened, in 1991 the old Sunshine Skyway spans were demolished.
Today the Sunshine Skyway not just carries Interstate 275 over Tampa Bay providing a breathtaking view at 191 feet, it is an icon which represents the purpose of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Compare the Sunshine Skyway in Florida to the Golden Gate Bridge in California; after all, the Golden Gate Bridge represents the purpose of the San Francisco area similar to the Sunshine Skyway even though the bridge designs are different.
Now the Sunshine Skyway has earned its place as one of the major bridges in the United States. Being on a U.S. postage stamp plus its popularity over the years has landed the Sunshine Skyway into a permanent national spotlight.
By the way, the postage stamp is supposed to be released sometime in 2012 according to articles both on Bay News 9 as well as the St. Petersburg Times. The value of the stamp is equivalent to the current 1-lb. Priority Mail rate, which is $5.15.
I’m excited to see the new postage stamp for myself when it’s released.