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skyway bridge articles

non-jumper skyway articles, 2000 - 2015.
updated: 11.20.15

links could be broken at any time. (our comments follow)
11.20.15: huge dry-dock just fits under the skyway.
11.20.15,, Ship repair company at Port Tampa Bay expanding, creating 250 jobs., By Yvette C. Hammett, Tribune Staff
TAMPA - Port Tampa Bay’s working waterfront is about to expand, not in physical size, but in the number of employees in its workforce.
International Ship Repair and Marine Services, Inc.’s acquisition of a 10th drydock, one that gives it the capability to repair massive new ships, will also enable the company to double its workforce over the next eight months or so.
The new drydock, shipped from Canada, when paired with another of International’s floating repair berths, will be 843 feet long with 125 feet of clearance between swing walls, making it the largest floating drydock on Florida’s West Coast.
Equipped with two 40-ton cranes, each standing more than 150 feet tall, this piece of equipment is capable of lifting then holding "Panamax" size vessels 1,050 feet long, for maintenance and repair.
"It’s the first time we’ve ever had such an expansion" in workforce, said company President Dave Sessums. The company plans to hire up to 250 more people to add to its roster of about 250 employees over the first six to eight months of 2016, he said.
Even before hiring begins, welders, machinists and other trade professionals interested in getting in on the expansion can submit applications at
The new drydock arrived this week, floating under the Sunshine Skyway bridge with only about 5 feet to spare between the top of the dock and the bottom of the bridge, Sessums said.
The drydock, which arrived in two parts, will be assembled together to accommodate its first Panamax ship repair in early December, he said.
When Sessums came to work for the company in 1978, there were only eight employees, he said. "We were a traveling gang, a crew of people that could do anything on ships. We traveled the world" repairing vessels.
Then, George Lorton purchased the company in 1998 and International built its first two drydocks. "Now, we’ve expanded to this," Sessums said.
The expansion comes at a time when Port Tampa Bay is working on what it calls its Channel District Plan — a plan to transform port property along Channelside Drive into a trendy strip on the edge of downtown filled with shops, apartments, a market, restaurants, a park and the marina. Development is expected to begin near the Florida Aquarium, so it could be years before it reaches the historic Banana Docks, close to International Ship at the head of Ybor Channel.
The marina, which would be constructed by the historic Banana Docks would be the last district developed near International Ship and 24 other acres Lorton owns.
He stepped forward in September to tell the port’s board of directors that he opposes the proposed filling of about 600 feet of canal at the marina site. Lorton, who said he pays about $500,000 a year in taxes for the land and his business, said no waterfront should be filled.
Port consultant Luis Ajamil, who designed the Channel District Plan, assured Lorton the port would meet with him to discuss the issue. He told Lorton the plan still has some flexibility.
Nothing firm has been decided to date on any changes that would affect International Ship Repair, said Ed Miyagishima, senior adviser to Paul Anderson, the port’s president and CEO.
"We’re excited for International Ship and the doubling of their workforce. They bring a vital service to the port, which has the largest ship building and repair facility between Pascagoula and Norfolk. It’s a vital part of what we have here."
Miyagishima said the port is not looking to do away with its ship repair companies as it develops the Channel District Plan. While changes might occur, he said, they will be market driven, as will the entire plan, so there is no time certain on when any of it will be developed.
Port officials, when they unveiled the development plan in August, said they planned to take about a year to get more public input, work with the City of Tampa on zoning changes and to set up development guidelines.
08.16.14: If Skyway run gets approval, appeal could be widespread.
08.16.14,, By Katy Bergen
SARASOTA - At its height, the Sunshine Skyway bridge rises 430 feet, an iconic silhouette against a Florida sky.
It terrifies Shane Henry’s mother, who ducks down in the backseat when she travels over it.
It gives Henry’s sister mild anxiety.
It fascinates Henry, who has long marveled at the structure with the spectacular view, so much so that he wants to make it a setting for a half-marathon road race.
Henry’s new start-up, Henry Entertainment Group, specializes in large-scale festivals and athletic events, among them a proposed Thanksgiving morning 13.1 mile run on the Skyway bridge.
While the race faces major hurdles, including local and state approval to shut down the bridge, Henry’s ambition reflects the novelty experiences that sports entrepreneurs must deliver to be successful in a thriving and competitive events market.
It’s a tough balance to strike.
If event promoters fail to provide exciting, atypical experiences, they might not attract the roughly 4 million people who participated last year in the nontraditional race industry — think obstacle course racing or "color" runs where participants are doused in paint or colored powder.
But if an event deviates too far from a standard format, it runs the risk of not sustaining the interest of a nontraditional crowd less interested in racing, as well as turning off traditional competitors. (According to Running USA reports, the number of half-marathon finishers in this country has quadrupled since 2000 alongside nontraditional growth.)
"That is more of a challenge for the nontraditionals — reinventing yourself. More than of a traditional road race, which isn’t as sexy or exciting," says Ryan Lamppa, a running consultant and analyst who founded the Bring Back the Mile movement. "But those traditional road races have a known, established product that doesn’t need to be as compelling or fun."
Henry, 27, wants to do both, bringing his own ideas to existing race formats, and blending them with concerts, music and festival-style events without forsaking the value of a "serious, timed event."
"When I go run, I want to enjoy the run itself," Henry says. "But I want to enjoy after. I want to enjoy both."
Henry, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Fort Lauderdale at age 9, launched his start-up earlier this year with $10,000, the blessing of his wife and the help of two business partners after leaving a corporate career in Bealls’ marketing department. The one class he needs to complete his associate’s degree at the State College of Florida remains unfinished.
His first event, the Kids Across the Bay Walk and Run, is scheduled for next month at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. It’s a 5K and kids quarter-mile run that benefits All Children’s Hospital, and includes a pre-race breakfast, a "finish festival" with live music, and free tickets for participants to a Tampa Bay Lightning game.
Henry plans to launch a national running series in which a moving finish line tries to catch runners next year. The event, inspired by the Wings for Life World Run, will include a championship of individual race winners held in the Sarasota-area.
And then there is the proposed Skyway Bridge run, which would have solo competitors ascending the bridge twice in a 13.1 mile race that would include live music on the course as well as a post-race party.
The race has potential longevity, said Lamppa, though he is not involved with Henry’s plans. Thanksgiving Day is the most popular running race day in the country. The Skyway has a catchy name and a compelling history. And the opportunity to cross a bridge usually closed to foot traffic would be broadly appealing.
"He’s got a novel course on the most popular holiday to run in, a combination of a nontraditional event with the traditional, with the possibility of an appealing name and tagline," Lamppa said.
But first Henry must secure local and state approvals. He plans to meet with Florida Department of Transportation officials later this month, as well as the City of St. Petersburg.
His company would have to cover the cost of missed toll revenue while part of the bridge is closed, but traffic counts are typically lower on Thanksgiving morning, said Kristen Carson, of the Florida Department of Transportation.
Carson said a special event on the bridge would be unprecedented since 1987, when 15,000 runners and walkers participated in an event celebrating the Skyway’s grand opening.
"All over the country there are major events on bridges," Carson said. "We thought, ‘Let’s listen and see what he has to offer.’ "
Henry believes there would be enough interest from the local fitness community for the event to be successful, and the race course unique enough to attract runners from other places.
He wants participants to see a Florida sunrise as they compete and to be excited about the ascent, a rarity in Florida’s flat terrain. He sees the race becoming a family tradition, and a global event.
And though the former State College of Florida student — who once organized a successful attempt to break the Guinness World Record for largest collection of used plastic bottles — wants his events to quickly grow, he says he also genuinely enjoys the planning.
Next, he wants to expand events to concerts and festivals and experiment with ways competitors can get race discounts in exchange for promoting the event on social media.
"The main focus is the user experience," Henry said. "We are gonna work on ways so that you want to be a part of the fun."
Someday, he says, he’ll finish that last class.
"Three reasons," Henry says with a smile. "My mom, my wife and so I can tell my kids someday, ‘Stay in school."
Right now — with plans taking off — doesn’t seem like the right time.

2017: more about this.
10.19.13: DOT removing 'antiquated' highway motorist call boxes.
10.19.13,, TALLAHASSEE - Other than along the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Florida’s highways will no longer have the telephone call boxes by the end of January. skip ...The boxes along the Sunshine Skyway Bridge will remain — they are connected to a crisis counseling system, and the bridge in the past has been a common place for suicidal people to contemplate jumping....
09.05.13: study: tampa bay area 'most stressful city' in u.s.
09.05.13,, TAMPA -- A new study has ranked the Tampa Bay area as the "most stressful city" in the United States.
Four other Florida cities - Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, and West Palm Beach - made the top ten list.
The study was performed by Sperling's Best Places, which specializes in livability rankings. The study looked at several factors when determining the rankings. Those factors are, in order of importance:
• Unemployment rate
• Suicide rate
• Commute time
• Mental health (days per month with poor mental health, from an annual CDC survey)
• Poor rest (days per month without adequate restful sleep, CDC survey)
• Alcohol use (drinks per month, CDC survey)
• Violent crime rate
• Property crime rate
• Cloudy days annually
"Frankly, I was shocked by the concentration of Florida cities clustered in the top ten," lead researcher Bert Sperling said. "But when we look into the statistics, we can see some of the reasons."
Researchers cited high levels of divorce and suicide, as well as high unemployment, which they called a lingering consequence of Florida's real estate boom and bust.
The researchers also said residents of the Florida cities in the study were more likely to report feelings of stress, depression and emotional problems.
The study also lists the nation's least stressful cities. Occupying the top spot is Minneapolis, with the Nassau-Suffolk area of New York and the Cambridge-Newton-Framingham area of Massachusetts right behind.
(do not allow this elevated stress level to provoke an incidence of bridge jumping. are you stressed to a breaking point? get help now!)
07.03.13: worth it or wasted: lighting the Sunshine Skyway.
07.03.13,, The Sunshine Skyway Bridge has been around since the late 1980s and has become an iconic symbol of the Tampa Bay area.
Many residents will tell you It looks beautiful light up at night, but it costs $2,200 a month to keep the lights or $26,000 a year.
We asked if you thought the money was worth it or wasted. Here are the results of our poll:
WORTH: 91%
(with so many people generally freaking out just crossing the bridge, imagine zero lights on at night. there is far too much money being wasted on so many stupid programs, we think keeping the lights on this structure is fine. the cost to light the bridge is likely paid for by one day's collected tolls per year. definitely worth it.) update: state goes into disco mode.
02.25.13: Book documents Sunshine Skyway history.
02.25.13,, By KATE BRADSHAW, Tribune staff
ST. PETERSBURG -- With its bright yellow cables and enough fortitude to withstand a ramming from an 87,000-ton ship, the Sunshine Skyway is the tallest bridge in Florida and the fifth-longest span of its kind in the world.
The striking cable-stayed bridge has towered over the southern opening of Tampa Bay for nearly 26 years. Its design has earned recognition from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Travel Channel has ranked it the No. 3 bridge in the world.
"It's become the shorthand for Tampa Bay," said David Downing, deputy director at the Pinellas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, noting how the bridge's image factors into logos for banks and municipalities.
The bridge also has a remarkable – and, at times, harrowing – story that's never really been fully told, until now.
A book out this month tells the story of the Skyway, along with other notable Bay area bridges.
"Man's attempts to span the bay have been mentioned in pieces, but there isn't one complete mention of this," said St. Petersburg historian Nevin Sitler, who co-authored "The Sunshine Skyway Bridge: Spanning Tampa Bay" with his father, Ric.
While the Sunshine Skyway wasn't the first bridge to reach over the Tampa Bay system – the Gandy was – its importance lies in its value as a symbol for region and the fact that, without it, you wouldn't have a straight shot down Florida's Gulf Coast.
"It's a story that highlights inventors and investors' attempts to connect the isolated peninsula of Pinellas with the rest of Florida's West Coast," Sitler said.
The book coincides with the 87th anniversary of the launch of the Bee Line Ferry, which took passengers on a 90-minute, 15-mile ride between Pinellas Point and Manatee County's Piney Point. Increased congestion and commerce punctuated the need for a quicker connection between Manatee County and the rest of the state.
Just a few generations ago, the only way to get from St. Petersburg to Sarasota was an hours-long trek clockwise around the bay. Now, you can make the journey quickly, for just a dollar.
The bridge technically spans three counties, because it cuts through a sliver of Hillsborough. In its planning stages, there was talk of stretching the bridge between Manatee and Hillsborough counties. One of the staunchest advocates for that was former Tampa Tribune managing editor Virgil "Red" Newton, whom the Sitlers said was a sworn enemy of then-Gov. Fuller Warren, and might be part of the reason the bridge runs between Manatee and Pinellas.
The Skyway initially opened as a two-lane bridge in 1954, but as the region grew, increased congestion led to construction of a nearly identical span, which opened beside it in 1971 to accommodate southbound traffic.
That newer span bore the brunt of one of the biggest disasters to hit the area nine years later, when the phosphate freighter Summit Venture ran into the bridge, causing a massive breach that sent vehicles, including a Greyhound bus carrying 35 passengers, plunging into the bay. (the bus actually had 25 passengers and 1 driver.)
"It's a marker in time — one of those before — and after moments of the destination," Downing said.
That disaster happened just months on the heels of the Blackthorn incident, a fatal collision between a tanker and a Coast Guard vessel that happened near the bridge.
Allan Horton, then a reporter for the sarasota herald-tribune, still remembers his editor calling him one foggy morning to cover the bridge collapse on May 9, 1980.
"I walked out to the edge of the span and looked down, and there was the bus floating there," he said. "And you couldn't see through the windshield, thank goodness. But you knew nobody was going to survive."
Horton's other connection to the bridge is his father, Freeman Horton, the engineer who designed the initial span.
"I actually worked on the crew that surveyed Tampa Bay in my father's boat," he said.
When it was time to add the second span, the new governor went with another firm with a slightly different design that left out heavy wooden "timbers" that may have softened the blow from the ship.
Another dark chapter in the Skyway's history involves the people who have jumped from the bridge over the years, trying to kill themselves. The Sitlers struggled with how to cover a topic that already garners frequent attention and settled on telling that part of their Skyway's story through retired state trooper Ken King. Nicknamed "Sky" King, Sitler said he talked at least 10 potential jumpers out of going off the bridge.
"Obviously we had to bring it up," he said. "Being able to do it on a positive note by showcasing the heroism of Ken King was able to accomplish that without being macabre."
The 4.1-mile, $244 million-span, later officially dubbed the Bob Graham/Sunshine Skyway Bridge, opened with great fanfare on April 20, 1987. Downing thinks of it as more than a bridge. It's an experience — "the best dollar you'll spend while you're here," as a recent visitors guide describes it. (while we applaud trooper king's impressive 10 person save record, downplaying or ignoring the fact over 250 others did jump, is typical of the "let's not talk about it" attitude of skyway jumper reporting. suicide jumpers happen and it should be discussed. pretending it doesn't happen does not make it stop or go away.)

we were contacted by author/reporter kate bradsaw prior to her story:

02.19.13, Kate Bradsaw,, Hello, I am doing a story on the history of the bridge and was wondering if I can talk to one of the people who run this site. Thanks!, Kate
02.19.13, hello kate, what sort of information are you looking for? in what regard is this story?
02.19.13, Hi, Phil. I just interviewed someone who authored a book on the Skyway, but he intentionally doesn’t focus on the fact that so many people have leapt from it. I’d kind of like to know your perspective on why so many people have chosen that as a site as opposed to another bridge (or method). Thanks! Kate
02.19.13, kate, it doesn't surprise me that people write about the bridge and ignore the fact it sits high on the list of united states suicide sites. look at your newspaper. tbo started a jumper database, but have since let it fade with a lack of new jumper updates. the trib rarely reports on this very newsworthy aspect of this very public venue. while i understand not reporting more private suicides, i do not understand why the public ones get the under rug treatment. in a recent jump, the female jumper set her car on fire on the bridge. apparently, tbo saw it as not newsworthy. "nothing to see here, please move along". meanwhile, people came to the site seeking answers to what was going on when they passed the fiery scene while driving over the bridge, as our website had more answers than all other media combined.
   it has been suggested by some that the skyway draws people to end it there because it offers a release of life unlike other methods of suicide. like the 'golden gate bridge' on a lesser level, people are drawn to it and have been for decades. everyone in central florida knows about the skyway suicide bridge, even if the media doesn't. many suicides off the bridge seem to be on impulse. someone loses a job or a mate and it's one of the first places that comes to mind when suicide thoughts invade. how many times have you heard people suggest that someone "go jump off the skyway" as a joke or "i'm going to jump off the skyway" as a response to a trying day at work? it's a local meme. keep in mind that other methods of suicide in this area put the skyway lower on the list, such as guns, drugs, and jumping off of other heightful objects.
   being as we never get contacted prior to a jump, i can only guess that some see it as a way to proclaim something. to go out with a bang. some, i'm sure, to prove something to those they blame for driving them to suicide. maybe they think, "you'll remember me now!". others suggest the brief free fall flight into the water has some spiritual aspect to it. who really knows the mind of the suicidal? i'm sure they don't completely know either. i suppose most do not know the physics of jumping into water from that high. jumpers do not always die just from impact with the water. hitting the water can involve a slow agonizingly painful drowning. i try to vividly point that out to anyone thinking about jumping. i hope this helps. if you need more, just ask.

(no further contact has been made. as of 04.06.13, there have been 5 jumpers off the skyway so far in 2013, none of which have been reported by tbo. their newly designed jumper database is still missing most of the jumpers from the past few years.
update: 01.02.14, the tbo jumper database website is gone. again.)
06.26.12: skyway closed for days.
06.26.12,, Until Debby, Sunshine Skyway was never closed this long
TAMPA -- Until this week, the longest the iconic bridge had been shut down was about eight hours during another tropical storm in 2001.
The Sunshine Skyway is known for its glistening golden cables, a somewhat dark history and as an important highway that typically carries 52,000 vehicles a day.
The past few days have been anything but typical.
Since high winds from Tropical Storm Debby began pounding the region, the iconic bridge from Pinellas to Manatee counties is making news for something new.
Being eerily empty.
Troopers closed the Skyway at 4 p.m. Sunday. Since then, the only vehicles allowed on the four-mile span belong to law enforcement.
Until this week, the longest the bridge had been closed was just more than eight hours, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
That occurred Sept. 14, 2001, during Tropical Storm Gabrielle.
It will remain closed "until such time as tropical storm force winds subside and the span is deemed safe for vehicular traffic," Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the highway patrol, said in a news release.
Debby has lingered in the Gulf of Mexico since Saturday, unleashing sustained winds at the bridge of 47 mph, with gusts to 55, according to the highway patrol.
The Skyway's 58-year history includes some dark times, including numerous suicide jumpers and the horrific crash of a freighter that knocked down one of its cantilever superstructures in a driving thunderstorm, killing 35 people, in May 1980.
Traffic was limited to one span for several years until a new $230 million, cable-stayed main span opened in 1987.
The bridge carries Interstate 275 traffic over Tampa Bay.

12.30.11,, Sunshine Skyway Bridge to be on postage stamp, SOUTWEST FLORIDA - The U.S. Postal Service features the Sunshine Skyway Bridge arcing over Tampa Bay on a new 2012 Priority Mail stamp.
The Skyway bridge is regarded as a technical innovation as it was one of the first major concrete and steel, cable-stayed bridges in the country.
The date of the stamp issuance has not yet been determined, according to the U.S. Postal Service. The price of one Priority Mail stamp is $5.15.
The stamp was designed by Carl T. Hermann of North Las Vegas, and its digital illustration was created by artist Dan Cosgrove of New York City.
The stamp shows the bridge's yellow mast-like cables, a sunset orange sky, miniature vehicles on the roadway and boats in the water.
The Bob Graham/Sunshine Skyway Bridge, given the former governor's name in 2005, was completed in 1987. The four-mile span links St. Petersburg and Bradenton.
First Day of Issue: February 28, 2012
a few comments from the article about the stamp:

12.31.11, Barry L., With a shadow that close to the bridge the sun would not be setting. It would still be pretty high in the sky. Seems like the artist did not do their homework.
12.31.11, Jerry B., You got a point. Shows looking east with a sun rise or maybe a sun set? But the shadow of the bridge is on the east side meaning sun setting behind the view point. So what giving the light on the horizon?
12.31.11, Barry L., The view is to the east. Wonder how that works for a sunset sky!
07.07.11: Old Skyway fishing pier to get new life as artificial reef
07.07.11,, Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer,
ST. PETERSBURG — Construction crews begin this month tearing down the oldest spans of the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier, which until three years ago was a popular spot for anglers out for a day of sun and fun.
The original 1954 spans were deemed structurally unsound, so the public has not been allowed to use them since 2008.
But just because that part of the fishing pier is being demolished doesn't mean anglers won't ever get to use them again. Instead, those spans — 27 on the north end, 48 on the south — will become a place to find a lot of fish.
Underwater, that is.
None of the concrete debris will be dumped into Tampa Bay. Instead, it will be loaded onto barges and taken out into the Gulf of Mexico, said Aubrey Clarke, a spokeswoman for the Skyway project.
"It will be taken out to become part of various reef locations," she explained.
Clarke said she could not say at this point which reefs would get the concrete from the old Skyway. However, Pinellas County operates 10 artificial reef sites, from 3 to 21 miles offshore in the gulf.
The reefs are made of Army tanks, old barges, World War II landing craft, even a tugboat. One, off St. Pete Beach, contains parts of the old Corey Causeway.
To Capt. Tony Allen of Electric Blue Fishing Charters, adding the old Skyway concrete to those reefs is "a very good idea. Juvenile fish are going to congregate around it, and then larger predators are going to come looking for the smaller fish."
The old Skyway bridge's operator boasts that it's the longest fishing pier in the world, a place where "you can pack your picnic, umbrella, chairs and fishing equipment and drive up to your fishing spot. It's like tailgating and fishing at the same time."
Anglers catch tarpon, Spanish mackerel, cobia, grouper and kingfish from the old spans, and because it's open 24 hours, they can be out there day or night.
While the demolition work goes on, anglers can continue fishing off the Skyway spans that were built in 1970, which run parallel to the old ones. However, state officials are warning boaters to keep clear of the old piers by 100 feet.
The two bait shops on the north and south piers also will remain open. The project is expected to cost about $2.2 million.
08.06.09: pdf file  pdf file
12.03.08: pdf file  pdf file
 11.2008: pdf file  pdf file
08.22.08: Eastern Skyway Piers To Close; Structures' Safety A Concern
08.22.08,, STEVEN GIRARDI, The Tampa Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG - The state will close the eastern portions of the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers because years of deterioration and saltwater corrosion make them difficult to maintain.
That means pushing a little closer together on the remaining western piers for the 335,000 people who use the popular fishing spots each year.
The eastern piers, built in 1954, will close Aug. 29, the state's Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday.
When the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge was built over Tampa Bay in 1987, connecting St. Petersburg with Manatee County, the old bridges were opened as the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park.
It consists of two sets of piers, north and south, that stretch into Tampa Bay. Each set has an east and west side made from two former bridges joined together to make travel easier for drivers and pedestrians.
The east piers are closest to the Sunshine Skyway.
The west piers, built in 1971, will remain open 24 hours, but the state will continue to evaluate them. Inspectors regularly check the piers for cracks and deterioration, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.
"It's really been the past few weeks it reached a point of a concern," she said.
The east piers were built to last 50 years, so paying to repair and maintain them is no longer reasonable, Carson said.
The west piers also will need repairs. Adding 10 years to their life, through 2031, is expected to cost $10 million.
Crews are modifying the west piers to accommodate two-way traffic and 300 parking spaces.
Cars and light trucks without trailers will be allowed on the west piers. Large trucks and recreational vehicles will be prohibited, but parking for large vehicles will be available near the piers.
09.23.07: full article
09.09.07: skyway bridge gets new coat of sun.
09.09.07,, By Christopher O'Donnell, Published: Monday, July 9, 2007 at 2:45 a.m.
TAMPA BAY -- For the next few months, the pelicans that soar over the Sunshine Skyway will have new neighbors.
A group of workers will make regular trips to the top of the bridge to apply a new coat of bright yellow paint as part of a $4 million face lift that the state hopes will put the sunshine back into the Sunshine Skyway.
The bridge, which connects Manatee and Pinellas counties, is being sandblasted and repainted and getting new light fixtures.
The nine-month project began in January, and is the first major paint job for the Skyway since it opened in 1987. It replaced the original bridge, which collapsed when hit by a freighter in 1980. The 20-year-old yellow paint on the cables has faded and chipped.
About 2,000 gallons of primer will be used to prep the bridge before 700 gallons of brilliant yellow paint are applied to the distinctive steel pipes that house the bridge's 42 support cables. On top of that will go 700 gallons of a urethane-based clear coat to protect the paint from the wind, rain and sea spray.
The bridge, which spans 4.1 miles across Tampa Bay, is an iconic regional landmark and was recently named by the Discovery Channel as one of the 10 most beautiful bridges in the world.
Just driving across the bridge, whose roadway peaks at 190 feet above the bay, leaves some drivers white-knuckled with fear. When painting the highest points of the Skyway, workers will be nearly 250 feet above the bridge and a dizzying 431 feet above the bay.
Workers are required to wear a safety harness hooked to the bridge but, even then, it is not a job that just anyone can do, said Aaron Kent, a coatings inspector with WilsonMiller, the company overseeing the project.
"Either you have it or you don't," Kent said.
It is not just the height that makes working on the Skyway a challenge. Even down at traffic lane level, the workers, mostly young men from Mexico and eastern Europe, work just a few feet from cars and trucks whizzing across the bridge at 70 mph.
The Skyway's unique shape meant that engineers had to custom design a system to support winch-hoisted platforms similar to those used for cleaning windows on tall buildings.
The first step is the construction of a chain-link pathway that will climb to the top of the Skyway along the bridge's outer cables.
Platforms will be hung from the scaffolding and surrounded by tarpaulin covers to keep paint and debris from falling on passing traffic.
Work is expected to continue until fall and will mean some overnight lane closures, Florida Department of Transportation officials said.
The schedule could be hampered by inclement weather, said Pepe Garcia, a DOT district structures maintenance engineer. Work will be halted during storms and high winds.
"The weather is a problem not just if it rains but high humidity can prevent you applying paint," he said.
05.2006: skyway maintenance pdf presentation  pdf file
04.02.12, pdf file detailing bridge structural maintenance issues and what is being done about them. many interesting images of the bridge's innards, as well as construction shots.
10.06.03: Skyway safeguards don't deter jumpers.
10.06.03,, At least 10 people have jumped already this year, despite crisis phones and 24-hour patrols. By JAMIE JONES
ST. PETERSBURG - The lonely young blond left church on a windy afternoon and drove to the top of the Sunshine Skyway bridge.
Wearing black pumps and a shiny black dress, she climbed onto the ledge and looked at the chilly blue waters 197 feet below. The wind seemed to nudge her. It's time, she thought.
She raised her arms skyward and pushed off the edge. Two boaters watched as she began a swan dive into Tampa Bay.
Halfway down, Dawn Paquin wanted to turn back. "I don't want to die," she thought.
A second later, she slammed into the water. It swallowed her, and then let her go. She broke through the surface, screaming.
* * *
Paquin, a 34-year-old New Port Richey woman, is different from most in that she lived to talk about jumping off the bridge, one of the most popular in the nation for suicides.
Responding to numerous jumpers in 1998-99, officials installed six crisis phones and began a 24-hour patrol, costing taxpayers $956,000.
But the problem isn't going away.
At least 10 people have jumped to their death this year, including three last month. Since 2000, when the new safeguards were fully installed, more than 22 people have scrambled over the concrete wall and plunged into the bay.
An additional 40 people have been talked off the bridge, said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Harold Frear, who supervises the suicide patrol. Some, he said, cannot be deterred.
"The ones who are serious about it, they park the car, go right over and jump," he said. "There ain't no talking."
Some national suicide experts believe nothing short of a fence will work, an idea that has been deemed architecturally unsound for the Skyway.
Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, has advocated a fence around the Golden Gate Bridge, which ranks No. 1 for suicides, with more than 1,000 before officials stopped counting in the mid '90s. But in California, the idea has been dismissed as impractical and aesthetically unpleasing.
"A bunch of dead people," Meyer argues, "is very, very aesthetically unpleasing."
* * *
The original Sunshine Skyway was open for three years before the first jumper arrived.
On Nov. 11, 1957, Doris Ann Reed, a St. Petersburg maid, leaped off the bridge as her husband, a cafeteria bus boy, tugged at her clothes and begged her not to jump.
By 1960, nine people had plunged the 155 feet to their death. The 13th man, Robert E. Morris, a Pinellas Park bookkeeper, left a book in his car before stepping over the edge in 1963. Three poems were marked, including one that read:
I am standing on the threshold of eternity at last, As reckless of the future as I have been of the past: I am void of all ambition, I am dead of every hope: The coil of life is ended; I am letting go the rope.
By 1977, at least 32 people had died from the fall. Six had survived, including 29-year-old William Russell, who later offered this advice:
"There are no problems that can't be ironed out by using a little reason."
In 1980, part of the bridge collapsed after it was hit by a freighter during a rainstorm. Thirty-five people died.
The new Sunshine Skyway opened in April 1987, arcing 4.1 miles across the Tampa Bay, its golden stays shimmering skyward.
Five months later, the first jumper plummeted to his death, hitting the water in roughly 3.5 seconds, at about 75 mph. (actually, the first jumper from the new span jumped 07.24.87 and lived. he jumped from a lower portion of the bridge and spent four nights naked on tarpon key island before being rescued. the first jumper death from the new span occurred 10.07.87.)
To date, at least 127 people have died from the fall.
* * *
For decades, Florida Highway Patrol troopers, who handle the bulk of the suicide calls, have been coaxing people away from the edge.
Lt. Frear thinks their success probably has increased since 2000, when the state began to staff the bridge full time with off-duty troopers - paid time-and-a-half for eight-hour shifts.
The move came after Gov. Jeb Bush asked state transportation officials in 1999 to find a solution to numerous jumpers. They said fences would cost millions and make the bridge less safe in high winds. They also thought nets would entangle seabirds. They opted for the patrols.
"If we weren't out there," Frear said, "there would probably be a lot more jumping."
On patrols, troopers often park at the top of the bridge, lights flashing. They hope jumpers will be deterred by their presence at the highest point.
He says troopers encounter two kinds of jumpers: those who move quickly, and those who linger.
"We have actually talked to people who have jumped while we were talking," Frear said. Lingerers typically can be talked down, he said.
Cpl. R.J. Kraus has encountered 26 people on the bridge during his night patrols since 2000. He has talked down seven. The other 19 jumped.
"It seems a lot more jump on the midnight shift," said Kraus, a 22-year veteran of the agency.
About a year ago, Kraus discovered a woman sitting on the bridge and, with the help of two other troopers, snatched her off the wall. Two weeks later, as Kraus sat on top of the bridge, the woman stopped on the other side. She looked him in the eye before she ran over to the edge and jumped.
"It usually happens pretty fast," Kraus said.
Late Tuesday evening, Kraus sped toward the bridge after hearing that a young woman had abandoned her Toyota 4Runner in the southbound lane. As Kraus drove toward the top, he turned on his spotlight and looked around. Nothing.
Then he saw a woman hiding near an emergency phone. She had teary eyes, and wouldn't tell him what was wrong. Kraus took her to St. Anthony's Hospital for a mental evaluation.
Standing in the windy darkness, the woman tucked safely in his car, Kraus looked relieved.
"It's a good night," he said.
* * *
Along the highest points of the Skyway are six boxes containing emergency telephones that ring in an old bank building in Tampa, home of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
The Skyway lines have a louder ring, signifying they are top priority, said Cragin Mosteller, center spokeswoman. Since the phones were installed in July 1999, for $30,000, 18 people have called for help. None jumped.
"If we didn't have phones up there, we'd have 18 more fatalities," said Debra Harris, director of the center's 211 & Hotline Services Division.
As soon as a call comes in, operators alert the FHP, which can pinpoint their location on one of 15 cameras, installed last year for roughly $1-million. Within minutes, an FHP trooper is heading toward the phone.
But some people, like Paquin, don't pick it up.
"I didn't want to talk," she said. "I didn't want anyone up there."
* * *
For all the deterrents - the troopers, the phones, the cameras - the suicides continue. Some relatives think more should be done.
But Lt. Rod Reder, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which investigates all Skyway suicides, says he's not sure what else could be done. (this)
"These are people who are making a last-ditch attempt to end their own lives," he said. "There's no way for me to speculate what they're thinking or why the numbers are up."
Meyer, of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, said the answer lies in delaying the jumps.
She and others cite a 25-year-old study by Oakland psychologist Richard H. Seiden, who tracked 515 people prevented from committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971. Ninety percent did not go on to kill themselves.
Additionally, Meyer thinks jumpers might be deterred if they realized the pain involved.
"It's a rather slow death of multiple fractures," she said. "You bleed to death. It's very horrible."
* * *
Dawn Paquin thought she saw angels as she traveled headfirst toward the water. She thought they were telling her to turn her body around.
She said she flapped her arms like a chicken and righted herself, ensuring that her feet hit the water first. The entry felt as if she were crashing through a wooden deck. Pain splintered through her body. Her dress and shoes were ripped off.
Paquin's bowels ruptured. She broke her back and dislocated both shoulders. Still, she surfaced and screamed for help. A business owner and his teenage son, who witnessed the jump, helped rescue her.
Paquin said loneliness led her to the bridge that day in January 2002. She said she had developed a habit of attaching herself to abusive men, and her boyfriend had beaten her that morning. He took her to church. During the service, Paquin excused herself. She told him she was going to the restroom.
Instead, she walked out into the sunlight. She got into her gray Cutlass Ciera and drove toward the Skyway. Ever since she was a teenager, she has admired the bridge.
As she looked over the edge that day, she didn't know what else to do. Then, the wind came along.
Paquin spent several months recovering at Bayfront Medical Center and then moved in with her mother while her back healed. Her body still bears scars from surgery. Otherwise, she feels fine.
She is making a new start. But she still feels lonely sometimes and tells few people of her fall from the sky. She thinks officials should put a fence around the bridge.
And she feels lucky.
"It was a long way down," she said. "It wasn't like, boom, a car accident. There was time to think. And that's when I turned around."
- Times researchers Kitty Bennett, Mary Mellstrom and Cathy Wos contributed to this report, which contains information from Times files.
03.20.02: skyway bridge designer dies.
Eugene Figg, 65
05.07.00: skyway needs repairs, but will last.
05.07.00,, Engineers say cracks, deteriorating bearings, pier erosion and other problems on the bridge are not serious. By JANE MEINHARDT
ST. PETERSBURG -- Three years ago, engineers found what some called unexpected signs of wear on the new Sunshine Skyway bridge, leading to a major repair job that took nearly three times as long and cost twice as much as planned.
The latest Skyway inspection shows similar deficiencies on the 13-year-old bridge, but both inspectors and state officials pronounce it fit to grace Tampa Bay for much of the 21st century.
Still more repairs will be needed on the $244-million bridge, but the Florida Department of Transportation and consulting engineers say the cracks, deteriorating bearings, pier erosion and other deficiencies found in an inspection performed last year pose no serious problems.
"The bridge overall is in very good condition," said Jose Garcia, district DOT structures engineer. "It's functioning as expected and designed. We expect it to last 75 to 100 years."
The Skyway's first major facelift began in May 1998. The repairs were based on consultants' evaluation of the Skyway's 10-year inspection in 1997, which rated the bridge's condition as satisfactory to good. Some experts said the inspection showed the bridge may be deteriorating faster than it should, but other experts and state engineers disagreed.
The repairs cost the state $2.6-million, double what was anticipated. It included spot-painting the 42 steel cables, replacing some bearings, patching cracks and installing a lightning protection system. The contractor, Sieg & Sons, took 16 months instead of the scheduled six.
Garcia said extra repairs were added to the project after the contractor started, including more cable painting -- the most difficult part of the job. Wind and weather caused delays.
Consultants hired for the latest inspection reported in September 1999, giving the bridge similar grades to the earlier inspection and finding similar deficiencies, some of which Sieg & Sons were in the process of repairing during the inspection.
Owen Ayres & Associates of Tampa submitted a 400-page report, which Garcia said is typical for a bridge as complex and unique as the Skyway.
The consulting engineers listed deficiencies such as cracks in the road, columns, beams and other parts of the bridge, a deteriorated electrical system, bay bottom erosion around bridge piers and bad bearings. None of the problems from the 1997 inspection had worsened, the consultants said.
Their recommendations included:
Sealing some cracks and performing periodic testing to determine how much salt has seeped into the concrete, which could rust steel reinforcing rods.
Completely overhauling the bridge's electrical system.
Repairing or replacing various bearings, which allow horizontal bridge movement.
Garcia described most of the deficiencies as routine items that will be included in a bridge preventive maintenance program scheduled every two years. A contract expected to be awarded this month will cover about $500,000 in Skyway repairs.
More crack repairs are planned. "The cracks we're concerned with are in the columns, closer to sea level," Garcia said. "We have not seen anything that requires us to do any special monitoring."
The electrical system, including cable and navigation lights, likely will be overhauled in 2002.
Consultants found swift tidal currents around the bridge have caused erosion, called scour, to undermine the foundations of some main span piers. The piers adjacent to the two main piers have been undermined as much as 4 feet.
The engineers noted that the protective structures called dolphins around the main span partially restrict the flow of Tampa Bay and increase turbulence around the bridge, causing visible underwater sand plumes that extend nearly a half-mile in the direction of the tide.
"The scour condition is still being analyzed," Garcia said. "The Skyway area is not your typical . . . tidal area."
The University of South Florida has agreed to study the currents. When that's done, the state may hire a consultant to evaluate the situation. Erosion could cause the bridge to settle, but Garcia said a Skyway survey last year showed no settlement.
In an inspection summary, Owen Ayres & Associates said, "The department should be quite pleased with the structural performance of the Sunshine Skyway over the last 12 years. It has performed very well and, with routine inspection and preventive maintenance, should continue to provide excellent service for decades to come."

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