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     William Moriaty

Getting From Here To There - - The Story of the Bee Line Ferry and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

The Sunshine Skyway
Photos of the new span at daylight and at sunset. (Photos 1987, provided by the Sunshine Skyway Dedication Commission, from the collection of the author.)
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge: Portal to Another Dimension?
As stated in Part One of this series, my first trip ever across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was in April 1971. I was riding across with one of my aunts when we took a trip to the Ringling Museum of Fine arts followed by a trip to the Columbia Restaurant in St. Armand's Key (one of my favorite places in Florida--also that restaurant was the same restaurant where 29 years later I would find out that fellow D.O.T. employee Dick Bush's wife Jane is related to Nolan Canova!).

I would personally drive the Skyway 2 years later when I piled three friends into my 1969 rust-color Ford Maverick and boogied down to Bishop Planetarium in Bradenton to see a November 1973 presentation on unidentified flying objects (which I might add were a very hot topic at that time as two rubes fishing the Pascagoula River in the Mississippi town of the same name claimed to have been abducted at an abandon boat dock by space aliens in October of that year).

Although my own trip down and back to the planetarium was uneventful, I will never forget noticing in this first night trip the absolute inky blackness of the Skyway causeway. The next summer, a former colleague, Greg Van Stavern, was driving his Plymouth Barracuda very late at night over the Skyway with friends after watching auto racing at the De Soto Speedway (now the Bradenton Motorsports Park) when a green luminous object barely cleared his car in the jet-black diamond skies over Tampa bay south of the main span. Regrettably, all of his passengers were fast asleep at the time and he was the only witness to this event.

One of my favorite memories dates back to November 1974 when Greg and I went to our first, and my own favorite, U.F.O. symposium. The symposium was held at the old International Inn hotel that was on the southwest corner of Westshore and Kennedy in Tampa. This grand hotel looked more like Miami than Miami itself with its wonderful 50's architecture, globe of the world and tropical landscaping (which I presume was probably designed by Florida landscape architect great Jack Holmes). At the symposium were such U.F.O. luminaries of that era including U.F.O. abductee Herbert Schermer, "Beyond Earth, Man's Contact With U.F.O's", authors Ralph and Judy Blum, and University of South Florida professor and southern director of the National Investigation Committee of Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), Dr. Robert S. Carr (who my wife, I now find out, had him as her astronomy prof! For more background on this eccentric figure, link to: http://ufos.about.com/library/weekly/aa081202a.htm).

When the question came up, "Where can one go to try to see a U.F.O. in this area?" what do you think his answer was? Why the Sunshine Skyway of course, due to its unobstructed views and lack of ambient artificial light at nighttime! Yes, in addition to hauntings and maritime disasters, the Sunshine Skyway was also a nighttime denizen of U.F.O.s, as so eloquently addressed in Captain Bill Miller's great 1997 book, "Tampa Triangle Dead Zone" (see PCR issue #134, October 14-20, 2002, yet elevated the mystique and legend of this almost sacred area even more.

To the avid botanist like myself, however, the Skyway also transported me from the warm temperate southern forest of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to the world of the sub tropics in Manatee and Sarasota Counties. I always marveled, and still do, at the statuesque Royal Palms in Terra Ceia and the Royal Poinciana's and Coconut Palms on U.S. 41 that are within a five mile drive south of the southern end of the Skyway.

Back to "Reality": The Sunshine Skyway Bridge Gets A New Lease on Life
Forgive me as I have digressed!

As stated in last week's chapter, construction began on the new cable sway main span, the largest of its type in the world, in June 1982 and was initially opened to a marathon race called the Skyway Run on January 11, 1987. A Dedication Commission appointed by former Florida Governor Bob Graham, on February 7, 1987, officially dedicated the new span. 20,000 people walked across the bridge for the first time. The dedication included fireworks, a parade, a U.S. Coast Guard flyover and Florida notables such as former Florida Senators Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles, as well as Dedication Chairwoman and current Mayor of Tampa, Pam Iorio. The new span was open to traffic on April 30, 1987. Here are the facts behind this engineering marvel:

Length: The Main Span Bridge is 4.1 miles long.

Roadway: Two 40-foot wide roadways allow for two lanes of traffic and an emergency lane in both directions. Originally designated as U.S. Highway 19, the causeway was upgraded to Interstate standards in order to complete the final link of the Interstate 275 circumferential into Manatee County from its northern terminus at I-75 in Pasco County. With this came highway lighting, so U.F.O. spotting out there has pretty much gone the way of the Dodo.

Cost: $244 million.

Channel Clearance: Ships traveling under the main span have 1,000 feet of horizontal clearance between the two main piers, and 175 feet of vertical clearance from the waterline to the underside of the center span of the bridge.

Designers: The high level approaches were designed by Figg and Muller Engineers, Inc., and the low level approaches and trestles were designed by Florida Department of Transportation Bureau of Structures Design, and Parsons Brinkerhoff and Greiner, Inc. (now U.R.S.) designed the pier protection system.

Safety: To try to avoid another Summit Venture catastrophe, an extensive pier protection system places man-made barriers between off-course ships and six center piers. An electronic warning system advises motorists of impending hazards on the bridge. The protective bumpers and islands, referred to as "dolphins" are designed to stop off-course ships before their making contact with the bridge. The main pier dolphins can absorb more force than three fully loaded Boeing 727 commercial jetliners would generate at took off speeds of 120 knots. In all there are 36 dolphins, the largest being 60' in diameter.

Hurricane: The bridge is designed to withstand winds up to 290 miles per hour.

World's Longest Fishing Pier: The high level spans of the old bridge were dismantled by 1990 and used artificial fishing reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The low level portions were converted into first rate recreational fishing piers, the longer of which is on the Manatee County side at 1.6 miles in length, making it the longest fishing pier in the world according to the 1986 edition of the Guinness World Book of Records.

Contractors: Main pier foundations: Hardaway Constructors, Inc. and Michael Construction Company.

Low-level approaches and trestles: Ballenger Corporation; High level approaches and main span: Paschen Contractors, Inc.; First four dolphins: Misener Marine; Remaining dolphins and islands; H.G. Harders and Sons, Inc., and Traylor Brothers.

A World-Class Structure Like This Could Really Use Some Landscaping!
Once interstate standards were applied to the Skyway causeway, I provided, on behalf of the Tampa Bay Reforestation and Environmental Effort, Inc., the first landscape design for the Pinellas side for the Florida Department of Transportation beginning in 1991, while Phil Graham and Company, P.A. provided the design for the Manatee County side.

Original dubbed as T.R.E.E. Inc. Beautification Project #36-91, and Florida Department of Transportation State Project Number 15170-3448, I created 43 landscape plan sheets spanning from the tollbooth in Pinellas County to the interchange at the North Rest Area. Due to my own work obligations with the Department that conflicted with me being its Project Manager, the design work was put out to bid and awarded to a for-profit design company who utilized much more exotic plant material, such as Oleander, than my proposal of utilizing primarily native plant material with non-native material being limited to the Washington Palm.

In 1992, T.R.E.E., Inc., in association with the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program (http://www.tbep.org/), launched Beautification Project #53-92, utilizing volunteers to plant Sweet Acacias, sea grasses and Mangroves adjacent to the North Rest Area. My involvement since that time with the Skyway has not diminished, however. The landscape installed in 1996 and 1997 did not prove to be successful due to its heavy reliance on Oleanders which suffer from a fungal disease called Sphaeropsis Knot. I found myself in the summer of 2002 redesigning failed areas, this time utilizing native plants as I had originally set out to do eleven years earlier. This on-going replacement program, which is being conducted in cooperation with the City of St. Petersburg, will probably last another two to three years.

Keysheet for landscaping plan
A key sheet to the landscape plan for the Pinellas side of the Sunshine Skyway (1993, from a collection of the author.)
An enlargement of the highlighted area shows a pivotal member of the design team! Blow-up of Will's name

Where was I On September 11, 2001? On the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Of Course!
I have been literally in the bowels of this magnificent structure as a part of a Department tour. Believe it or not, beneath the main span roadway there is a tunnel-like maintenance area running almost its entire length.

Strangely, you feel as if you're in a subway although you are up to 175 feet above the water. As we were touring, bracing for the final and most spectacular part, taking an elevator all the way to the top of one of the two cable support pylons, which tower almost 400' above the water, something terrible was happening elsewhere.

In New York City, two airliners hijacked by terrorists plowed into and destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers. Then we heard news that a portion of the Pentagon had been destroyed by yet another hijacked airliner. All of us were in stunned shock - - adding to our fear was the fact that we were suspended in what could have been a concrete tomb suspended 175' above Tampa Bay while our President was only twenty miles away as the devastation was occurring.

We got the call from our District Headquarters - - get off the Skyway - - we are at war and this structure could be targeted. The tour guide encouraged us to leave our signatures on the maintenance tunnel walls of which I wrote "September 11, 2001 - - A Day of Infamy" and signed my name below it. The breathtaking view from the top of the pylon would have to wait-possibly forever. I went back to the North Rest Area on that clear sunny day numbed at the grotesque unfolding little over one thousand miles north of me.

Looking To The Future
I am proud to have been a part of the on-going history of this magnificent portal to the tropics (or to the unknown for all you Tampa Triangle Dead Zone fans) and I look forward to contributing to it in the future as I strive to make this world class causeway and structure as aesthetically desirable as possible and also strive to forward its legends and history to generations in the future.

For Web Browsing on the Sunshine Skyway, Link To:
Sunshine Skyway Bridge Demolition (Pages by Dave):

Building BIG, PBS Wonders of the World Database:

Bridge Pros-Sunshine Skyway Bridge:

Newest Tampa Bay Area F-Body Club Site Up and Running
For those of you who are enthusiasts of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, and all of their variants, please check out the web site of the newly formed Sun Coast F-Body Association (SCFBA). Kudos to my wife, Karen Cashon, for the fabulous job she is doing with this site! Link to: http://www.scfba.net

"La Floridiana" is ©2003 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.