Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Skyway Fishing Pier

Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Skyway Fishing Pier
If you have ever traveled between the cities of Bradenton and St. Petersburg, chances are good you have driven across the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This is a 29,040-foot-long bridge that spans Tampa Bay along I-275. Its 5.5 mile length makes it the longest cable-stayed concrete bridge in the world.

With a height of 190 feet above the water, The Skyway is an apt moniker for this bridge. It was designed by the Figg & Muller Engineering Group and completed in 1987 at a cost of $244 million. It’s a beautiful structure that has won many engineering and design awards. The Travel Channel has named it one of its top 10 bridges. It was also featured on “Building Big,” a 5-part PBS television series.


Even before the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge was built, the Bee Line Ferry, which began service in 1926, shuttled vehicles between northern Manatee County and St. Petersburg. This cut the trip distance by more than 50% and took 40 to 60 minutes to complete. However, wait times for boarding the ferry sometimes ran to several hours.

The original bridge was a 2-lane, steel, cantilever bridge built by the Virginia Bridge Company. It cost $21 million to build and opened on 6 September 1954. In the late 1960s, increased traffic and changing standards for interstate highways dictated that a second 2-lane bridge be built. It was erected west of and parallel to the original bridge. It opened in 1971. The new span was to be used by southbound traffic, while the original one was restricted to northbound vehicles.

Then, on 9 May 1980, disaster occurred. During a severe thunderstorm, a tanker, the MV Summit Venture, struck a support column pier, sending 1200 feet of the southbound span into the water. Six vehicles and a Greyhound bus also plunged into the bay, killing 35 people. A man named Wesley MacIntire survived the fall. His pickup truck hit the deck of the freighter before continuing down into the water, but he was able to escape from the truck and was picked up by the ship’s crew.

Work on a new, safer Sunshine Skyway Bridge began in 1982. It opened to traffic on 20 April 1987. Safety was top priority, so large, concrete islands called “dolphins” were installed around the bridge’s 6 piers to absorb any impact. The new bridge has two roadways supported by 21 steel cables. The cables are sheathed in steel pipes, 9 inches in diameter and painted yellow. Placement of the cables between the roadways allows drivers and passengers good views of the water of the bay.

In 2005, the state legislature acted to officially name the bridge after Bob Graham, the former governor and U.S. senator who oversaw its design and construction.

Skyway Fishing Pier State Park

After the 1980 tragedy, the center sections of the old bridge were destroyed, but the remaining sections to the north and south were left intact and became Skyway Fishing Pier State Park in 1994. Anglers can drive onto the piers and park at their favorite spot any time of the day or night, 365 days a year. It is the “world’s longest fishing pier.”

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