Moreover, I made some updates to the Interstate 275 Frequently Asked Questions and the Getting Around the Tampa Bay Region from Tampa Airport PDF document pages. And there is one new page that I made that I feel is definitely needed – a Tampa Bay Region Transit Page, as the need for other forms of getting around in the Tampa Bay region, especially rail based mass transit, is very crucial if we want to be competitive among other Florida metropolitan areas such as Miami and Orlando. After all, both Miami and Orlando have commuter rail systems in operation and commuter rail is the key to making the Tampa Bay region competitive.
I know you are very excited to see the new look and feel of Interstate275Florida.com, and I am very excited myself to launch the new version of all things Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region on the web. All the pages are done, and it’s just down to checking to make sure that all the links work properly and to do a test of the new pages in the web browser to make sure that everything renders correctly.
The actual changeover to the revamped site will take place in a few days, but I can’t provide an exact date just yet. Once everything is all said and done, I will post another blog entry letting you know when the actual changeover will take place. While we’re on that subject, if you or someone you know has web pages that link to a specific page on Interstate275Florida.com please make sure to test your links when the changeover takes place to make sure that the correct page is being displayed. For instance, if your link points to a specific page it will more than likely end in .htm; the new pages will have an .html extension, so that you will probably have to change the file extension in order to keep your visitors from seeing the 404 error page.
When the actual changeover takes place it will take I would say about a good hour and a half to two hours so that I can delete the old FrontPage based content and upload the new CoffeeCup HTML Editor based content as well as the pictures and their thumbnails.
Again, after the changeover is complete and the revamped Interstate275Florida.com goes live please check your links as well as your bookmarks to be sure that you are seeing our content. If you happen to notice a link when the revamped site goes live that does not work for some reason please feel free to contact me and it will get fixed.
After it’s all said and done, I can finally uninstall FrontPage from my computers and put FrontPage on the shelf. Onward!
Happy New Year! (Even though we are a few weeks into 2016!)
Lately we have been having a good share of bad weather, sometimes it would get so bad that the Sunshine Skyway Bridge has to be closed due to high winds. Let’s say you are in St. Petersburg and you are headed south over the Sunshine Skyway to an event taking place at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish. Perhaps Hole in the Head Gang Train Robbery? Hobo Campfire Cookout? Murder Mystery Express? Day Out With Thomas? Or a regular train ride?
OK. Florida Railroad Museum tickets ordered and ready at will call? Check!
Vehicle ready to go? Check!
Now you got that covered, you find your way onto Interstate 275 south. All that stands between you and the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish is the reliable Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the tremendous time saver between St. Petersburg and Bradenton since 1954.
You are about to pass the last exit before the Sunshine Skyway, which is Pinellas Point Drive South, Exit 16. Uh-Oh! Florida Highway Patrol troopers or St. Petersburg Police officers directing you to exit at Pinellas Point Drive South instead of continuing south onto the Sunshine Skyway. The trooper or officer tells you that the Sunshine Skyway is closed due to high winds.
Bummer. High winds. What do you do if the Sunshine Skyway is closed?
If you are in St. Petersburg, you unfortunately have a 40-mile detour through Tampa via Interstate 75. It will take a lot more time to get from St. Petersburg to Parrish and the Florida Railroad Museum, but you’ll get there.
In order to bypass the temporary Sunshine Skyway closure due to high winds, you have two choices from St. Petersburg. Both routes involve transit through Tampa.
1. Follow Interstate 275 north over the Howard Frankland Bridge to Interstate 4 (Exit 45B). Next, follow Interstate 4 east for a short distance to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway by way of the connector highway which will enable you to transition seamlessly from eastbound Interstate 4 to eastbound Selmon Crosstown Expressway. Once on the Crosstown follow it east to Interstate 75 south, then follow Interstate 75 south.
2. Follow Interstate 275 north but exit the highway at FL 694/Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28), then east across the Gandy Bridge into Tampa. Enter the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and follow it for its entire length to Interstate 75 south. Remember to keep your SunPass funded, as the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is a cashless toll facility. Unlike the Sunshine Skyway, there are no toll booths on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.
Now if you are headed in the opposite direction from Bradenton to St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway is closed, it’s very simple. Simply reverse the directions as given above, just allow for extra time going through Tampa.
As I mentioned in a post from 2012, this is a great time to let you know what criteria is used in deciding to close the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather. On the main span of the Sunshine Skyway are wind speed detectors which send a wind speed report to the Florida Highway Patrol’s Tampa Bay Regional Communications Center. It is the personnel in the communications center that make a recommendation to FHP troopers whether to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather. Moreover, the FHP troopers out there patrolling the Sunshine Skyway also keep a close eye on weather conditions including how windy it is out there on the main span.
When wind speeds hover close to 40 mph (60 km/h) FHP troopers keep a close eye on conditions on the Sunshine Skyway, including activating the yellow flashing lights that warn motorists entering the bridge of high winds. Once the winds get sustained above 40 mph, FHP troopers will order the Sunshine Skyway closed.
Once the order to close the Sunshine Skyway is given, FHP troopers will direct motorists off of Interstate 275, southbound in St. Petersburg at Pinellas Point Drive South (Exit 16) and northbound in Palmetto/Ellenton at both US 41 (Exit 2) and on US 19 north at the last turn before toll at Exit 5 (that is the northbound entrance to Interstate 275 from US 19). Additionally, the closure order is passed on to the Florida DOT so that the electronic variable message signs found on Interstate 275 as well as Interstates 75 and 4 are updated with closure information advising motorists to seek alternative routes.
After all, closures of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather are not taken very lightly. If in the event the Florida Highway Patrol has to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather, it is for one good reason: Your safety. After all, no one – including me – wants to be out there on the Sunshine Skyway’s 191-foot high main span during dangerous weather.
And if you have to be somewhere across the Sunshine Skyway such as an event at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, plan ahead.
I recently came across an article in the St. Petersburg Times, written by staff writer Michael Van Sickler, about why we Tampa Bay region residents are mired in our cars while other metropolitan areas (such as Miami and Orlando) have rail based commuting alternatives. I wrote a reply to this article via the No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page on Facebook and I would like to share it with you.
After all, we need to fix the Tampa Bay region’s traffic and transit woes in order to be competitive with Miami and Orlando. The obvious solution is rail based mass transit, not the Florida DOT’s proposed Tampa Bay Express (TBX) for Interstate 275, now rebranded as Tampa Bay Next.
Sad but true.
Why do the anti-rail activists such as Sharon Calvert advocate more roads and more congestion instead of providing a more logical solution for getting around the Tampa Bay region? Why build a 20 lane version of Interstate 275 in order to accommodate TBX?
Let’s put it this way:
1. It is impossible for one to find a home close to work. Case in point: Downtown St. Petersburg has a residential downtown; unfortunately, for most people living in Downtown St. Petersburg – especially to be close to a Downtown St. Petersburg employer in particular – is financially out of reach.
2. With transit in the Tampa Bay region is spotty as it is now, the commuter is forced to rely on his or her own motor vehicle in order to commute to and from work. With living close to work out of the question, it means at least a 30 minute commute to work, if not longer.
3. The longer your commute to work, the more you pay in auto insurance. Case in point: Let’s say you live in New Tampa and you commute to work in Downtown St. Petersburg. Yes, Downtown St. Petersburg. From New Tampa you have to make your way south on congested Interstate 75 over to doubly congested westbound Interstate 4 in order to get to southbound Interstate 275. And yes, you got to get through Malfunction Junction and the Howard Frankland Bridge. Once you are over the Howard Frankland into Pinellas County, you still got a ways to go before you reach the office in Downtown St. Petersburg. That said, how many miles from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg is your commute?
When you call around or go online for an auto insurance quote, one of the questions you are asked is this: How many miles is your commute, one way, to work daily? Give the agent the one way distance from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg and you will more likely get a high rate quote.
4. Don’t forget, there is wear and tear on your vehicle for every day you commute to and from work. Factor in gasoline and maintenance costs. We are enjoying low gas prices right now, but wait until gas prices get back into the upper $3 to the lower $4 a gallon range.
5. More and more employers in the Tampa Bay region end up losing valuable employee talent due to long commutes to and from work plus the lack of reliable mass transit. This cuts into an employer’s bottom line as once an employee quits, the employer has to hire and train a replacement employee which takes a considerable amount of time.
6. There are people out there for one reason or another do not want to own a vehicle due to the high costs of insurance and maintenance, not to mention the car loan payments you make every month if you finance your car purchase. Unfortunately, in the Tampa Bay region this is not an option due to the lack of a robust rail-based mass transit system.
7. More and more people are having to move from the Tampa Bay region to metropolitan areas which already have rail-based mass transit systems in place such as Miami/Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando as examples. With rail based mass transit it’s as simple as getting on at the nearest commuter rail station and riding the train in to work downtown – no overly congested highways to worry about.
The need to fix the Tampa Bay region’s congestion woes is clearly obvious: The Tampa Bay region needs commuter and light rail based mass transit. We do not need a 20 lane Interstate 275 and we definitely do not need those so-called “Lexus Lanes” such as TBX. And certainly the Tampa Bay region does not need to become another Detroit!
And we the residents of the Tampa Bay region deserve better choices when it comes to getting around. Better choices for transit mean a better economy for the Tampa Bay region.
In 1921 Sophie Scholl, the principal force behind the White Rose movement in Germany during World War II, was born.
In 1955 West Germany joins NATO.
In 1974, The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee begins formal impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon in the Watergate Scandal.
Slovenia was not an independent nation yet – it was still a constituent republic of Yugoslavia, which was mourning the death of its longtime leader Josip Broz Tito earlier on 4 May 1980.
The Cuban boatlift was still going on, with refugees pouring in to the United States on boats coming out of Mariel Harbor.
Meanwhile, in the mouth of Tampa Bay, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was a classic twin cantilever span ready for yet another day. Another day of motorists driving across the bridge (and having to dread the steel grid deck) to get where they want to go. Another day of ships coming into and out of the Port of Tampa. Besides, being a Friday it’s the end of another work and school week.
The time: 5:43 AM. The date: Friday, 9 May 1980. The place: The shipping channel between Egmont Key and Ft. DeSoto Park.
When ships come into or out of the Port of Tampa, they have to be guided in or out by a harbor pilot so that these ships can be safely navigated through Tampa Bay and into the Port of Tampa. Back then, there was a major obstacle: The old Sunshine Skyway Bridge with its 864-foot center span, which was long enough for ships of the 1950’s. Aboard a pilot boat out of Egmont Key, harbor pilot John Lerro reported to duty aboard a vessel that came inbound from Houston a few days earlier; that vessel is the Summit Venture, a 606-foot freighter coming in to Tampa to take on a load of phosphate for somewhere in a distant part of the world.
Everything seems OK, until a severe thunderstorm arrives sometime after 7 AM. Visibility was reduced to zero and that John Lerro concerned. Would he miss the critical turn at Buoys 1A and 2A to avoid the Sunshine Skyway’s tall channel piers? After all, when you are on Interstate 275 and visibility drops to near zero, you take any and all measures to prevent a collision such as exiting the highway and waiting somewhere until the rain lets up.
Then, at 7:38 AM on Friday, 9 May 1980, Interstate 275 Florida history would change forever, as far as the Sunshine Skyway is concerned.
The rains kept raging on preventing any visibility whatsoever. Then – out of nowhere – the Summit Venture was on a collision course with the southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and its Support Pier 2-S, the anchor pier just south of the main channel Pier 1-S that anchors the south cantilever and provides the transition from through truss to deck truss. John Lerro, the harbor pilot, tries everything to stop the ship from colliding with the bridge including reversing the engines and dropping the anchor.
Compare the impact to a soda can as it related to a compact car. The compact car has more mass than the soda can. Therefore, upon impact the soda can is crushed by the mass of the compact car. The same thing with the Summit Venture upon impact with Pier 2-S: After all, Pier 2-S was not designed for impact from a large vessel and, upon impact, Pier 2-S was sheared off its supports like a heavy sword.
Upon loss of support by Pier 2-S, the impact started a chain of events which would result in the deck truss from Pier 3-S northward plus the through truss from Pier 2-S to the point north of Pier 1-S (the main channel pier to the south of the shipping channel) collapsing into the churning waters of Tampa Bay below, including the south anchor arm and cantilever arm. This left behind the suspended center span which was being held up by the north cantilever arm and anchor arm but the northern arm could not take the load of the suspended center span on its own. The suspended center span fell into Tampa Bay as well.
In the end, thirty five people lost their lives that fateful morning including a few on a Greyhound bus headed for Miami. There were only two survivors: Richard Hornbuckle, who managed to stop his Buick Skylark a mere 14 inches from the abyss on the northern arm and Wesley McIntire, who drove off the broken end of the southbound span and survived by swimming to the top and being rescued by the Summit Venture crew.
I was going to a private high school on the day the Sunshine Skyway fell, and I was getting ready for school that morning. Back in 1980, we did not have Bay News 9 yet (in fact, my house did not have cable service yet – just an outdoor antenna receiving Channels 8, 10 or 13). Instead, I had a little AM radio tuned to WSUN-AM 620 listening to music while I was getting ready for school. Suddenly, Ronald J. Evin, the news director for WSUN at the time, came on with a special bulletin: A ship was ready to hit the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Well, I thought, it was probably another boat that would bump into the fender system and the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span would still be there. Or as I thought.
Once at school the TV was on and tuned to WTVT Channel 13, which was a CBS affiliate at the time. (Remember the programming that used to be there from a long time ago when WTVT was a CBS affiliate? WTVT became a FOX affiliate in the Great Tampa Bay Television Affiliate Switch of 1994 and WTVT has been a FOX Owned and Operated station since.) Once I saw the pictures for the first time I was totally shocked: The southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway was gone. I could not believe it!
Two days later, when the northbound span was converted to handle two way traffic my mother, grandmother and I took a Sunday ride to check out the damage: A southbound span that was damaged beyond imagination, and a tall channel pier that stood out from the rest of the mail channel piers on the Sunshine Skyway – Pier 1-S – which would stand out as an icon of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge for the next several years. Everyone else was checking it out too.
Besides, my mother was doing the driving – I haven’t received my driver’s license yet. The car I had was a 1974 Ford Mustang II and all it had was just an AM radio – no AM/FM/CD like you see in today’s cars and SUV’s. In fact, no entertainment center where you can listen to AM, FM, XM Satellite Radio or your own MP3 music on a flash drive. The radio was fixed onto WSUN AM 620 just like my little radio at home.
35 years later, things have changed over the years since the Sunshine Skyway tragedy.
First of all, I graduated from high school in 1983 and I had to write a senior year thesis. The subject? The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, from building to collapse.
In 1981, there were decisions that had to be made as far as the Sunshine Skyway is concerned. Rebuild the cantilever bridge or replace it with a new bridge? Florida Governor Bob Graham made the decision that would change the signature of the Tampa Bay region forever: A new, cable-stayed four lane Sunshine Skyway Bridge that met interstate highway standards. After all, Interstate 275 was built all the way to Queensboro Av S in south St. Petersburg with another section getting underway which would extend the highway to 39 Av S with interchanges at 22 Av S (Exit 19) and 26 Av S (Exit 18) and the ultimate goal was to connect Interstate 275 with the newly extended Interstate 75 to Naples and Miami. Besides, the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge did not meet interstate standards.
Construction on the new Sunshine Skyway began in 1982. On 30 April 1987, five years after construction started, the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened to traffic.
Right after the new Sunshine Skyway opened both the old and new Sunshine Skyway bridges would stand next to each other. In 1991 the old Sunshine Skyway – both northbound and southbound spans including all the main channel piers including Pier 1-S, the channel pier that stood out after the Sunshine Skyway tragedy – was demolished. What was left of the northbound and southbound spans were converted into fishing piers as they are today.
When I wrote a similar blog entry five years ago in 2010 I paid a visit on Sunday, 9 May 2010 to the fishing pier on the northern end of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The center section including its signature main channel piers is long gone, but as I was standing at the end of the fishing pier I began to realize the bridge that used to be from its beginnings in 1954 as a single span and the second span in 1971 to the collapse in 1980 and what happened afterward. I took a look around the fishing pier and bait shop and all I found was nothing more than a little poster put up by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – the department responsible for Florida’s state parks and recreation areas including the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers – that told of the tragedy that took place on 9 May 1980.
Here’s a comment I left over at the St. Petersburg Times website discussing where people were when the Sunshine Skyway collapsed:
I have heard that there is some kind of memorial being put up at the fishing pier to remember the people whose lives were cut short by what happened. Perhaps a memorial – maybe a small obelisk structure consisting of a replica of the two tall channel piers (on the southbound span, the north channel pier – Pier 1N – had the identical look to their 1954 counterparts while the south channel pier – Pier 1S – had a different architectural look after repairs were made in 1969) – should be constructed as a memorial to the old Sunshine Skyway as well as the 35 people that perished that frightful morning. Besides, we remember people that we lost with monuments and memorials, especially World War II.
There’s already a memorial to the US Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn, which sunk just west of the old Sunshine Skyway in January 1980 after colliding with an oil tanker. I think the State of Florida ought to consider a memorial at the fishing pier of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge, built with private donations, as a reminder of the tragedy that happened that fateful morning of Friday, 9 May 1980 and afterward as well as triumph with the construction of the new bridge.
Well, fast forward five years to 2015. Saturday, 9 May 2015 to be exact. A memorial to the Sunshine Skyway tragedy would become reality thanks to a private individual.
Bill DeYoung wrote an excellent book of the true story of the Tampa Bay region’s signature bridge and of the events that led up to the tragedy at the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span on 9 May 1980. Bill’s book expertly documents the Sunshine Skyway from when it was built in 1954 and the twin southbound span in 1971 until tragedy struck that fateful Friday morning in May 1980.
At the same time the book was being promoted, there was strong interest for a memorial dedicated to the 35 people that lost their lives on 9 May 1980. A donation drive ensued, and with the blessing of the State of Florida to allow a monument to be constructed at the North Skyway Rest Area a memorial dedicated to the memory of the 35 people that lost their lives on the Sunshine Skyway that fateful morning became reality.
That memorial was dedicated at a public ceremony on Saturday, 9 May 2015. I paid a visit to the newly erected memorial later in the afternoon and I would say that it is a very beautiful and respectful memorial.
Now there are two memorials in the North Skyway Rest Area: One is the memorial to the USCGC Blackthorn which sank in Tampa Bay when it collided with the tanker Capricorn on 28 January 1980, and the other memorial of course is the memorial to the thirty five persons that lost their lives when the Sunshine Skyway was hit by the Summit Venture on Friday, 9 May 1980 at 7:38 AM. Both memorials are part of the North Skyway Rest Area and are open 24 hours a day; simply take the exit for the North Skyway Rest Area from Interstate 275 and follow the signs for the rest area. Once in the rest area both memorials are on the left; the Skyway memorial is the first memorial just before you approach the rest area building and the Blackthorn memorial is the second memorial across the drive from the rest area building. There is ample parking provided in the rest area and nighttime security is provided for peace of mind.
I highly recommend Bill DeYoung’s book, and you can purchase it from Amazon in either traditional hard copy format or in electronic Amazon Kindle format which you can read on practically any device such as your desktop or laptop computer, iPhone, iPad, Android – you name it. This book is the Sunshine Skyway tragedy well researched and done.
With two memorials in the North Skyway Rest Area, perhaps the Florida DOT should update the signage on the Interstate 275 mainline just before the exit for the North Skyway Rest Area. Presently the signage is just for the Blackthorn memorial.
In respect to the thirty five people who perished that fateful morning on Friday, 9 May 1980, here is a closeup picture of the newly dedicated monument with the names of the thirty five people who perished that day – The Day The Skyway Fell (click on the photo to enlarge):