Friday, September 04, 2009

The best view at 699 feet is from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Today is the start of the Labor Day weekend holiday and I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of a car I love to drive and point it in the direction of St. Armands Key, a perfect island just over the bridge from Sarasota. It’s not in Tampa so I didn’t take photos but, as some say, it’s all about the journey. In this case, it is about the route I always take. And get a kick out of. It’s south over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

The Skyway, actually named the Bob Graham Sunshine Sky Bridge, crosses Tampa Bay at the southernmost point of Pinellas County and heads over to Manatee County, toward Bradenton and Sarasota. The bridge itself is why I prefer this route over any alternative. It’s a continuous, pre-stressed concrete bridge design with a cable-stayed main span (those are the BIG yellow cables!!) It is 29,040 feet long - exactly 5.5 miles (or approximately 8.85 km). The bridge is a part of I-275, a north/south portion of our national Interstate system that runs east and west and takes me through the middle of Tampa, over Tampa Bay, down through Pinellas County and over the Skyway. An older bridge, built in 1954 in almost the exact location but a little west, was almost destroyed in 1980 when it was hit by a ship. After its collapse, construction of this bridge to replace it began in 1982 at a cost of $244 million. It opened to traffic in 1987. You can see the steel and concrete but what makes it so interesting and almost unique are the really gigantic, yellow steel cables, twenty-one in all, which support the structure. (I don't have a clue how it all works.) It stands 699 feet at the top and has the finest, indisputably coolest view of the Tampa Bay area and Gulf of Mexico, no matter in what direction you look.

The sunsets are breathtaking. BUT, a word of caution. A driver cannot look anywhere but ahead. Passengers on the other hand can gaze as though they are in a low-flying aircraft. Breathtaking height and vantage point. Drivers, on the other hand, do the darnedest things on the Skyway. Slow, incredibly slow. Nearly stop. Drive like maniac. Then, there are those on the flip side of the coin. There are drivers who are unable (scared near to death) to drive over the bridge at all and can ask for a driver to take the wheel when they are at the toll plazas on the causeways leading up to the bridge. It’s not a scary ride at all, but even if you’ve driven over it a number of times it’s still fun to try and get a look at those cables and the water below. The design is simply outstanding and not only has it been selected as one of the top ten bridges in the world, but car manufacturers have filmed several commercials on the bridge, the last I recall were for Cadillac. Every time I post about the cruise ships that come in and out of the Port of Tampa, they have to pass under the Sunshine Skyway. Its clearance for ships is 175 feet. Seeing its enormous height, and width, it’s astounding that a ship could actually hit a bridge of this size. But, sadly, it happened. Today, at both ends of the bridge are excellent and popular fishing piers that were created from the remains of the original bridge. If you do any driving up and down the east cost of the United States you know of the many tolls one can encounter, especially in our lovely Northeast (and delightful New Jersey Turnpike). The toll to cross one way over the Sunshine Skyway is just $1.00. I think that’s a bargain. (I would pay more to enjoy the fun ride and spectacular view.) There is another route south toward Sarasota, Naples and on to Miami – that doesn’t cost anything - but this is my preferred route and highly recommended.

My day was pretty near perfect. One of my all-time favorite bookstores, Sarasota News and Books, has closed. We reached the door with five minutes left on their going-out-of-business/fixtures sale. That is cause for tears. But, after that, this day became a resounding joy. (I could show you the shots I took of the sunset as we were heading north back over the Skyway toward home but I don’t want anyone to think I would actually operate my camera in the late evening while driving over the bridge. No never.)

10 comments:

Denise and Tim Higgins said...

Whoa! That is some photo, really makes you take a step back. I love it!

Don and Krise said...

I'm going to have to get a photo of a bridge just a little north of us in Tacoma. It's of similar design. Very cool. As far as taking photos while you're driving I assumed you were in your James Bond fully oufitted Bugatti with six or eight cameras pointed in various directions.
Have a great holiday weekend!

Danton said...

Amazing photo made more because of how beautifully it was framed. And the load of information is more than welcome too.

Thanks for dropping by.

James said...

Fantastic picture Frank!

Frank said...

@Don and Krise: I would love to see your Tacoma bridge. It might be the very same designer.

Hilda said...

This is an absolutely stunning photo! Fantastic pov of the bridge and beautiful sky!

LOL at your last sentence! Go on, cough 'em up, Frank!

Jacob said...

This is one of my favorite bridges and we've driven it many times. I've never taken a picture of it while driving over it, though, Frank!

You did an excellent job here. It is so massive, I've always had a hard time getting a good photo...we've stopped on the south side of it a couple of times, but I've never been happy with my photos.

However, I shall prevail. Some day.

Glad you had so much fun!

Lois said...

That is an awesome picture Frank! I love that bridge, but it makes me sad every time I see it because a friend of mine's wife and baby daughter were killed in that accident when the ship hit it in 1980. They were on the Greyhound bus that fell into the water. That baby was born a couple of months after my daughter and my daughter just turned 30 :(

Frank said...

@Lois: How tragic and sad that lives were lost in one of those truly freak accidents. No one could have ever warned anyone that simply crossing that bridge at that moment would end the way it did. No one will ever forget it. Thank you for putting such a profound human face to the tragedy, even after 30 years.

Amber said...

Very informative post! I live about 30 minutes away from the bridge, but rarely go over it. (I typically stay in St. Pete) I didn't know that it was ranked one of the top 10 in the world(!) or that commercials were filmed on it. Thanks for sharing the info!