The sun sets on the Sunshine Skyway – the fishing piers, that is

I know, it’s been a while since I posted here on the Interstate 275 Florida blog. But I recently found something interesting related to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge according to this Bay News 9 article, specifically the fishing piers on either side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Let me give you some historical factoid on how the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge was transformed into fishing piers. In 1987 the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge as we know it today was opened to traffic, replacing a twin cantilever span built in 1954 and 1971. The 1971 span as we know was damaged on 9 May 1980 when the Summit Venture collided with an anchor pier on the main span immediately south of the main channel pier which resulted in the loss of 35 lives, including several people on a Greyhound bus bound for Miami.

Four years later after the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened to traffic, in 1991 the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge – in particular, the main high level cantilever spans – was demolished. However, a good part of the old spans were kept for use as a fishing pier which served their purpose for many years more.

Unfortunately, the remnants of what used to be the 1954 northbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway being used as a fishing pier began showing serious deterioration. A consulting engineer hired by the Florida DOT took a look and the deterioration was so serious that the span merited permanent closure to the public and demolition.

So, it is what is left of the 1954 northbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway – which was used as a fishing pier – that is being demolished. The remnants of the 1971 southbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway is still in use as a fishing pier.

It’s sad to see a piece of Tampa Bay area memorabilia fall to the wrecker’s ball. But add in the cost of extended upkeep and it can get quite expensive. On a side note, it’s not just the old 1954 Sunshine Skyway northbound span that is being demolished – the old 1956 westbound span of the Gandy Bridge, used for many years as the Friendship Trail, has been closed due to serious deterioration and I believe it is slated for demolition. I can go on forever about the Friendship Trail, but I’ll save it for another topic.

Here’s a website for more information about the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers – skywaypiers.com. To get there, there are two fishing piers, one on the north end and the other on the south end. To get to the north end fishing pier, simply exit Interstate 275 at the north rest area and follow the signs to the fishing pier. To get to the south end fishing pier, simply exit Interstate 275 at the south rest area and follow the signs which will lead you on a road that takes you over a small bridge that parallels the Interstate 275 mainline and the entrance gate to the south fishing pier will be straight ahead.

Admission prices are as follows, according to the skywaypiers.com website:

$4.00 for your vehicle, plus $4.00 for each adult or $2.00 for each child 6 to 11 years old. Children 5 and under are admitted free. This allows you access for 24 hours to either fishing pier. If you want just to sightsee, a one-hour pass, valid from sunrise to sunset, is available for $3.00.

It makes for a great day trip!

Another sad day on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Writing a blog entry like this is a rare occurrence here at the Interstate 275 Blog. However, I was saddened when I came across this article in today’s St. Petersburg Times that involved someone who jumped from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It turned out to be the son of former St. Petersburg College President Dr. Carl Kuttler Jr., Carl Kuttler III.

What makes it more saddening is that it took place on a religious holiday before Easter, which is Good Friday. According to the St. Petersburg Times article, Dr. Kuttler’s son contacted Bay News 9’s Al Ruechel who, in turn, alerted authorities. At least Bay News 9 did everything they could as it tried to stop a suicide that was about to take place on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Being a St. Petersburg College alumnus (Class of 1987, back when it was called St. Petersburg Junior College), I remember the night when I walked the stage at the graduation ceremony held at the Bayfront Center in downtown St. Petersburg. As I walked the stage, I remember the moment I shook Dr. Kuttler’s hand and received my associate’s degree. After all, receiving my degree was one of my most important achievements setting the stage for what would be my eventual employment by the City of St. Petersburg four months later.

My condolences go out to Dr. Kuttler and his family in this utmost hour of sorrow. And a word of gratitude goes out to Al Ruechel at Bay News 9 for trying to stop a serious situation out there on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Because of the events that transpired on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge involving a suicide, I am reprinting part of a blog entry that I had here at the Interstate 275 Blog on this subject. If you or a loved one you know is in crisis, help is out there.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is help out there.

If you or someone you know is going through a crisis situation, here in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area dial 211 for information and referral to someone who can help. If you reside elsewhere, check your local telephone directory for the crisis intervention number in your area. However, in an extreme emergency you can always dial 911. Another resource would be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached toll free at 1 (800) 273-TALK 24/7/365.

For our Spanish speaking visitors: Para ayuda llame al 1 (888) 628-9454.

On the Sunshine Skyway Bridge there are a set of crisis counseling telephones mounted on the high level main span, three on the southbound lanes and three on the northbound lanes. Below these phones is a sign written in English and in Spanish that reads: “There is hope – make the call”. These phones connect the caller to The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa and the counselor answering the phone can immediately pinpoint where the caller is located so that a Florida Highway Patrol trooper can be dispatched to the caller’s location on the Sunshine Skyway. After all, time is very crucial in an emergency situation.

After all, help is out there.

Reflections on the Sunshine Skyway Tragedy 30 Years Ago

9 May.

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.

In 1980:

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 had 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.

Then impact.

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.

Meanwhile:

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? Things have changed substantially now, but that’s another story). 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. Besides, WMNF 88.5 FM was on the air but did not have a Sunday afternoon polka show yet – it would be another year before the show premiered. The radio was fixed onto WSUN AM 620 just like my little radio at home.

30 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. My knowledge and research of the subject earned me an A+. After high school came college a few months later.

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 Tampa Bay 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, and I was yet on another trip to Europe, this time to Belgium and Holland as part of a European study tour given by my high school.

On 30 April 1987, the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened to traffic. A week later, I would graduate from St. Petersburg College with my Associate in Science degree, receiving my diploma at what used to be the Bayfront Center in downtown St. Petersburg. A few months later I would start working for the City of St. Petersburg.

Just a few weeks after the tenth anniversary of the Sunshine Skyway tragedy, I experienced a personal tragedy of my own: I lost my grandmother to an accident involving a drunk driver on the morning of Friday, 25 May 1990. Things have changed for me drastically – it was just my mother and I together in the same home.

A year later, in 1991 Jodie Foster – who would go on to win a second Academy Award for best actress in Silence of the Lambs – begins her directorial debut in Little Man Tate, which was my most favorite Jodie Foster movie of all time. At the same time, the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge was demolished, leaving behind segments which would be converted into fishing piers later.

In 1994, the hit television series ER premieres. That same year, I began work on my second Associate in Science degree at Hillsborough Community College, this time in Legal Assisting. While my education was in full swing with a full time job underway, another of my favorite actresses comes on the ER scene, and that was the introduction of the head of the emergency department of Cook County General, played by Laura Innes.

For the next several years, ER would be riding high on the viewer ratings. Then in 1998 the Tampa Bay Rays (which used to be known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) began their first season of baseball at Tropicana Field. For me, I graduated from Hillsborough Community College with what I wanted: A second Associate in Science degree in Legal Assisting.

Two years later, in March 2000 I experienced another personal tragedy with the loss of my mother to a heart attack. In the midst of what was going on, I was taking an Internet class at Hillsborough Community College which I had to later drop due to my mother’s condition, and the birth of a website on the Internet: EdwardRingwald.com, which had pictures of Interstate 275 St. Petersburg pictures that I took with a traditional 35 mm camera and scanned them using a scanner. Three years later, in 2003 the pictures of Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg including the Sunshine Skyway Bridge would be moved into its new home: Interstate275Florida.com. Since then I have expanded the content on Interstate275Florida.com to include all 59 miles of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area, including the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the Howard Frankland Bridge, and the two feeders into downtown St. Petersburg, Interstates 375 and 175.

As I write this blog entry, 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.

Now I want you to share your memories of what happened 30 years ago on 9 May 1980 when the Sunshine Skyway collapsed. To do so, simply reply to this blog entry and it will be up after I moderate it, of course.

Unsung Sunshine Skyway Hero

Writing a blog entry like this is a rare occurrence here at the Interstate 275 Florida Blog. However, I came across this article in today’s St. Petersburg Times about an unsung hero who saved a woman from jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. In the spirit of the holiday season, this is an entry that brings out the hero in all of us.

According to the St. Petersburg Times article, a woman pulled over to the side in the emergency lane began leaning over the concrete Jersey barrier wall when a motorist pulled over and did everything to save this woman from jumping. Luckily, the Florida Highway Patrol came by and the story had a happy ending by saving the woman and taking her to St. Anthony’s Hospital here in St. Petersburg for an evaluation per Florida’s Baker Act.

Let me tell you after I read the article: This is Florida’s Baker Act at its finest, doing what it was intended to do. Hopefully the woman who attempted to jump off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is getting the counseling she needs.

In this day and age of today’s economy with people losing their jobs and losing their homes due to foreclosure, that plus the holiday season can drive a person over the edge. It is very sad that people who are in dire circumstances have to go to extremes like this.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is help out there.

If you or someone you know is going through a crisis situation, here in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area dial 211 for information and referral to someone who can help. If you reside elsewhere, check your local telephone directory for the crisis intervention number in your area. However, in an extreme emergency you can always dial 911. Another resource would be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached toll free at 1 (800) 273-TALK 24/7/365.

For our Spanish speaking visitors: Para ayuda llame al 1 (888) 628-9454.

On the Sunshine Skyway Bridge there are a set of crisis counseling telephones mounted on the high level main span, three on the southbound lanes and three on the northbound lanes. Below these phones is a sign written in English and in Spanish that reads: “There is hope – make the call”. These phones connect the caller to The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa and the counselor answering the phone can immediately pinpoint where the caller is located so that a Florida Highway Patrol trooper can be dispatched to the caller’s location on the Sunshine Skyway. After all, time is very crucial in an emergency situation.

As for the person who saved the woman from jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, who according to the St. Petersburg Times article is Guelmis Yanes, this person is a hero. This is heroism at its finest, especially around the Christmas holidays.

Hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

This morning (Friday, 18 September 2009) I was reading the article on Bay News 9’s web site about the overnight closure of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to someone making a bomb hoax on a CB radio. When I was reading the article I saw a link to more info on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and – to my surprise – my page on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at the Interstate275Florida.com site. A special thank you goes out to Bay News 9 for the link to my site!

Now let me talk to you about a very serious subject: Bomb hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Before I go on further, let me tell you that making false reports about destructive devices on public property in the State of Florida is not only morally wrong, it is illegal and a second degree felony pursuant to Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes. Besides, the court can require the perpetrator to reimburse the law enforcement agency or agencies that were involved in investigating a false report so made.

Back before the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987, the old Sunshine Skyway has had its share of bomb hoaxes, especially from after the 9 May 1980 incident to the day the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987. For a while there were a rash of bomb hoaxes; the perpetrators (this was back in the older days before telephone tracing equipment got more sophisticated) would telephone the Sunshine Skyway toll facility rather than law enforcement or 911 in the hopes of evading detection and not being caught. According to several St. Petersburg Times articles after the hoax calls were getting out of control to the point that telephone tracing equipment was installed to track callers. Soon after the tracing equipment was installed it proved helpful in tracking down and arresting a teenager who called in a false bomb hoax report regarding the Sunshine Skyway.

After all, if you have the occasion to call your local police department or 911 your call is not only traced it is also recorded. If you happen to live in Verizon territory where Verizon is your local telephone provider you have an option to trace a telephone call for a per use charge; the trace records are only released to a law enforcement agency and is very helpful if you are receiving harassing or threatening telephone calls.

Over the past 20 years or so telephone tracing equipment has gotten technologically advanced. Most of us have a feature that acts as a “peephole” for your telephone and that is called Caller ID. Some telephone providers have gone a step further; you can listen to your voicemails and find out who called you all on your computer.

In the recent bomb hoax scare that closed the Sunshine Skyway, the perpetrator did not use a telephone according to Bay News 9. Instead, the caller used an older form of chat room technology long before there was the Internet, and that is CB Radio. Telephone calls are easy to trace, while CB Radio transmissions are believed to be harder to trace. One way to find out where a radio transmission is coming from is to use a device called a direction finder; this is used by the FCC to aid them in locating unlicensed radio stations. On the flip side of the coin, telephone conversations are private in general while radio transmissions can be heard by anyone with the right equipment.

Anytime the Sunshine Skyway is closed, especially in both directions – whether it may be a suicidal person or a bomb hoax – it creates an economic hardship for everyone in the Tampa Bay area as those who live in St. Petersburg and want to go to Bradenton or Sarasota and vice versa must make the 50+ mile detour across the Gandy or Howard Frankland bridges into Tampa and follow Interstate 75 to their destination should the Sunshine Skyway be closed. Also remember too that while the Sunshine Skyway bridge is principally under the law enforcement jurisdiction of the Florida Highway Patrol as the Sunshine Skyway is part of Interstate 275, there are not two but three counties the Sunshine Skyway is a part of: Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee.

Now you are asking yourself, why Hillsborough County? That’s a very good question! The center high rise section of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is in Hillsborough County, a vestige of how Hillsborough County extended to the gulf beaches before Pinellas County was created in 1912.

Now if a high profile incident involves the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the Florida Highway Patrol gets involved as the lead law enforcement agency, as well as the sheriff’s offices of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties, and even the St. Petersburg Police Department as well. And we can’t forget to mention a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: The United States Coast Guard. Now talk about a multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional nightmare if the Sunshine Skyway had to be closed for any reason; if it takes place during the day (and especially during the morning or afternoon commute) it would be a bigger nightmare.

That means whoever makes a report of a bomb hoax involving the Sunshine Skyway will not only face a felony conviction (and absolutely no withhold of adjudication per Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes) including fines and time in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections in a state correctional institution, the court can order the perpetrator to make restitution for the trouble caused as a result of the false report.

Hopefully law enforcement will catch whoever committed this act and the person(s) who committed this act will face severe consequences. As it was part of the theme of a TV show in the 1970’s, “if you can’t pay the time don’t do the crime”.

The Old Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Recently I came across a blog on abandoned bridges and stuff on a Google search. From time to time I like to run a Google search on things related to Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area to see the results; most of the time I see stuff related to Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area which links to Interstate275Florida.com.

The blog is called Structural Descent, which is an urban exploration photography of abandoned places and objects done by Richard Rizzo. I haven’t gone through the entire blog yet, but if you are looking for pictures of abandoned places and infrastructure Richard’s blog is a great place to start.

Now on to the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

I was looking at Richard’s photo of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge which was taken in 1986 using 35 mm slide film at the blog entry. The photo is very superb knowing the fact that digital photography as we know it today has not been introduced yet. In the photo you see the damaged support pier on the southbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway as well as the four main channel piers in the background.

Now I would like to give you a backgrounder on the old Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span support piers, in particular the piers that were damaged in the 9 May 1980 accident with the Summit Venture. We’ll first start with the pier that was directly impacted by the Summit Venture.

The support pier directly impacted in the 9 May 1980 accident is an anchor pier which holds the south cantilever in place and is a transition from through truss to deck truss. On the two lane roadway it is clearly demarcated by an expansion joint as well as the bridge railing changing from concrete 1954 style railings (after all, the southbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway was based on its 1954 northbound counterpart) to steel railings that are commonly seen on many drawbridges leading to the Pinellas beaches. This pier is called Pier 2-S, which is the second pier south of the main shipping channel.

I believe the top of the pier that was damaged in the 1980 accident was sheared off and went into the water intact upon impact. After all, you have a heavy vessel such as the Summit Venture (even though it was empty coming into the Port of Tampa) and that support pier could not withstand the impact when the ship made contact. After all, Pier 2-S was placed out of the way of shipping traffic and I believe it was not designed to withstand a direct hit from ocean going vessels such as the Summit Venture.

Right after impact Pier 2-S sank all the way to the bottom of Tampa Bay while at the same time the section of deck truss to the next support pier, Pier 3-S, came crashing into the water and landed with the roadway tilted to the side towards the northbound span. I believe that the top of the pier still rests on the bottom of Tampa Bay where it came to rest after impact even to this day creating a mini-fishing reef. Parts of the deck and through truss landed on the bow of the Summit Venture and the gash that you may have seen in St. Petersburg Times photos on the right hand side of the bow I believe were the result of the impact with Pier 2-S, which set off a chain reaction that ended with 35 people losing their lives on that stormy morning.

Now we’ll go over to the main channel pier which is just north of the support pier that held up the majority of the southbound span until the 9 May 1980 accident. That pier is called Pier 1-S, which is the pier immediately on the south side of the shipping channel. This pier was damaged in the 9 May 1980 accident but it remained standing and it would be an icon of the old Sunshine Skyway for years to come until the new Sunshine Skyway was built.

There are four main channel piers that held up the old Sunshine Skyway, which for many years performed their duty of supporting a major bridge that carried traffic between St. Petersburg and Bradenton from 1954 to 1987. One has to admire the architecture that went into the design and construction of all four main channel piers of the old Sunshine Skyway, including me. However, Pier 1-S’ architecture was much different than the three other main channel piers which made this pier distinct for many years, even after the 9 May 1980 accident. How did Pier 1-S become so different?

We need to go back to 1967, when construction on the old southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway began. The main channel piers on either side of the shipping channel were constructed identically to their 1954 counterparts (in fact, the southbound span was constructed identically to the 1954 northbound span). However, two years later in 1969, workers constructing the southbound span noticed something wrong with the main channel pier that had the potential of delaying the project.

It is believed that the pilings that hold up the main channel piers on either side of the shipping channel were made of concrete – the same concrete pilings that you see on most other Tampa Bay area bridges including the Gandy Bridge – and were not driven far enough to reach limestone. By comparison the main channel piers for the 1954 northbound span were made of steel with the endings shaped like the letter H and were indeed driven into the bottom of Tampa Bay until the pilings rested on limestone bedrock.

In the case of Pier 1-S on the southbound span, the combination of concrete pilings and inadequate depth is what is believed to cause the serious cracking. So, the Florida DOT spent about $3,000,000 to have the pier repaired in place. Sure the pier could have been replaced completely but that would have been more expensive; besides, the Florida DOT needed that southbound span as soon as possible due to increasingly heavy traffic on the two lane northbound span.

Here is what I believe had to be done to repair Pier 1-S in order to open the southbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway for travel. First, steel pilings were driven immediately adjacent to the base of Pier 1-S and then the pilings were encased with concrete, creating the larger base than the other three channel piers. Next, the top of the pier was encased in a rectangular block I believe in order to reset the two large supporting legs that hold up Pier 1-S.

With the repairs made to Pier 1-S, its appearance and architectural look was drastically different than the other three main channel piers, which gave Pier 1-S the signature look on the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span. The main channel pier on the southbound span immediately north of the main shipping channel, Pier 1-N, was believed to be in pretty good shape. After all, Pier 1-N’s architectural look was identical to the two main channel piers that hold up the northbound span.

In the 9 May 1980 accident, it is believed that Pier 1-S was the first pier to be hit by the Summit Venture. Unlike the support pier to the south, Pier 1-S is a main channel pier which could resist impact by ships thanks to its design. Luckily, the Summit Venture was headed into the Port of Tampa with an empty cargo hold; I am not sure how Pier 1-S would have held up if the Summit Venture was carrying a full load.

In the months and years following the 9 May 1980 Sunshine Skyway tragedy Pier 1-S became an icon associated with the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge in its own right. It represented more like a statue rather than a bridge support pier which was supposed to carry southbound traffic from St. Petersburg to Bradenton.

Right after the 9 May 1980 Sunshine Skyway tragedy the Florida DOT wanted to get the southbound span repaired and back in service. Such repairs I believe would be done using the remnants of the southbound span excluding Pier 1-S and Pier 2-S, which would have been completely replaced. However, things took a turn in another direction – with the blessing of then-Florida Governor Bob Graham – which resulted in the construction of a new Sunshine Skyway Bridge that we Floridians can cherish for the future. Not only the new Sunshine Skyway is a signature icon of the Tampa Bay area, it also heralded the completion of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area which makes 59 miles of driving and commuting pleasure for residents of the Tampa Bay region.

Once the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened in 1987, Pier 1-S and Pier 1-N – the two main channel piers that held up both the 1954 northbound and 1971 southbound spans of the old Sunshine Skyway – were retired from service. The old Sunshine Skyway was demolished in 1991, including all four channel piers and the damaged Pier 2-S that was damaged in the 9 May 1980 accident. Today all that’s left of the old Sunshine Skyway are fishing piers.

Now for an anecdote on the tall channel piers that held up the old Sunshine Skyway.

Although the old Sunshine Skyway and its tall channel piers are gone, it is a reminder of the tragedy that took place and the triumph that came several years later when the new Sunshine Skyway opened which is today a signature icon of the Tampa Bay area as a region. After all, we mourn when tragedy strikes and we celebrate when we accomplish triumph.

There is already a memorial at the north Sunshine Skyway rest area, but it is not a memorial to the 35 people who gave their lives that fateful morning on 9 May 1980. This memorial is a tribute to a tragedy that took place earlier on 28 January 1980 when the US Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collided with the tanker Capricorn in Tampa Bay west of the old Sunshine Skyway.

Now here’s an idea for a memorial to the 35 people who tragically lost their lives on that fateful morning of Friday, 9 May 1980: An obelisk-type monument being a scaled down replica of the two main channel piers that held up the southbound main span of the old Sunshine Skyway and a plaque in the center that would have an appropriate inscription.

If you haven’t been by the Sunshine Skyway page over at Interstate275Florida.com, feel free to stop by and take a look. I am planning to add more historical photos of the old Sunshine Skyway in the not too distant future, so I need your help! If you happen to have any historical photos of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge – especially construction on the 1954 and 1971 spans as well as the tragedy on 9 May 1980 and afterward, please let me know by posting a reply or contacting me via the feedback page here at Interstate275Florida.com. If your photo is used I will give you full credit.

Reflections on the Minneapolis bridge tragedy in relation to the Sunshine Skyway

We experienced another tragedy with the collapse of the bridge that carries Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on 1 August 2007. From seeing the video of the collapse as it happened it is believed that there are injuries and deaths as a result of the bridge collapse. But before I go on further, please let me say that my thoughts go out to the families affected by this bridge collapse.

It brings back memories of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge disaster that happened on 9 May 1980. For most of us living in the Tampa Bay area around that time we definitely remember what happened. The freighter Summit Venture collided with the southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in a blinding rainstorm at 7:38 AM, first striking a major channel pier and then striking the pier immediately south of the major channel pier. This pier – which held up the south cantilever – upon impact by the ship and the pier being sheared off at the base began a series of events that led to 1,260 feet of concrete and steel dropped 150 feet into Tampa Bay taking with it 35 lives including several on a Greyhound bus headed for Miami. Only two people survived this terrible tribulation: Richard Hornbuckle who managed to stop his Buick only 14 inches from going over the edge and Wesley McIntire who went off the bridge but managed to survive by escaping from his pickup truck and swimming upwards to the surface where he was rescued by the crew of the Summit Venture.

I remember that morning when I was getting ready for school and it was raining. Then I heard on the radio that a ship was on a collision course with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Later on when I saw the pictures on TV at school I was shocked to see a Sunshine Skyway Bridge missing a tooth: 1,260 feet of bridge from just south of the north main channel pier to the pier south of the pier that was destroyed by the ship. The images of these channel piers plus the wreckage on the bow of the Summit Venture would be indeed ingrained in our memories for the forseeable future. For the next seven years the monument to disaster on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge would be that main channel pier on the south side of the shipping channel that held up the southbound span (that’s the channel pier that looked different than the other three main channel piers as a result of repairs done in 1969, two years before the southbound span opened in 1971). That monument to disaster was torn down in 1991 when the old Sunshine Skyway was demolished.

Back when the Sunshine Skyway fell in 1980 Interstate 275 was not part of the Sunshine Skyway yet – that would come seven years later when the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened and Interstate 275 was completed through St. Petersburg. The rest of the Sunshine Skyway’s minor bridges and highway were brought up to interstate standards including the drawbridges that were torn down and reconstructed as high level fixed span bridges in the early 1990’s. After all, none of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spans (1954 and 1971) were built to interstate standards. Right after the tragedy there was talk of not including the Sunshine Skyway with Interstate 275; however, the construction of Interstate 275 was a crucial asset to the Tampa Bay area and, as such, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as we know it today is that crucial link to Interstate 275.

As for the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, it carries Interstate 35W as it crosses the Mississippi River and through metropolitan Minneapolis. A companion interstate highway, Interstate 35E, carries traffic through St. Paul, which is Minnesota’s state capital. Interstate 35 is unique in that it has two route designations as it passes through two metropolises, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Back when the Interstate Highway System was planned these letter suffixes were allowed but the United States DOT’s Federal Highway Administration, acting on the advice of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), did away with the suffixes and no longer allowed their use. However, the Interstate 35W and 35E designations were allowed to be grandfathered. Here in the Tampa Bay area when Interstate 75 was being constructed it was planned for Interstate 75 to go through the metropolitan areas of Tampa and St. Petersburg and the bypass route was planned to be Interstate 75E. The routes were constructed but the numbering didn’t happen as planned as letter suffixes were no longer allowed when the bypass route was being planned. Today Interstate 75 runs on the newly constructed bypass route that takes it east of Tampa and the original Interstate 75 that goes into Tampa and St. Petersburg is today’s Interstate 275.

Please feel free to browse the Interstate 275 Florida site and be sure to check out the Sunshine Skyway Bridge page. Your comments and reflections, especially about the recent bridge collapse tragedy in Minneapolis, are always welcome.