An aesthetic marvel, having won 18 design awards, the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, spanning Tampa Bay, has received a new honor—a U.S. Postal Service $5.15 Priority Mail stamp.
Nancy Rittenhouse, U.S. Postal Service Suncoast district acting manager, indicated that instead of simply linking St Petersburg, Fla., with Bradenton, the bridge will now help connect people around the nation as a stamp, designed by Carl T. Hermann of North Las Vegas.
That may be true, but mailing those priority envelopes will not generate the same sense of wonder that driving over the tall, majestic bridge creates. I remember my first time crossing it, shortly after it opened in 1987. We planned a vacation to the Gulf coast, so I could see my state’s new design treasure. This was before I began writing about construction, but I was fascinated with structures. I took photos to help preserve the memory of the experience and the tragedy that led to its construction.
The featured bridge replaced a steel-cantilever bridge built in 1971 and brought down by the freighter Summit Venture during a May 1980 squall. It pushed out a 1,200-ft section and 35 people perished. The remnants of that old bridge and the sister span stood as a reminder of the accident and the lives lost.
“The new Sunshine Skyway bridge started with a disaster and concluded with the world’s most beautiful bridge,” said former Gov. Bob Graham, in a written statement. In 2005, the state named the bridge after Graham, who envisioned a safer signature replacement bridge.
Figg Engineering Group of Tallahassee, Fla., (formerly Figg and Muller Engineering Group) designed the cable-stay bridge. The 4.14-mi-long structure, with a 1,200-ft-long main span, soars 190 ft above the water, allowing easy passage into the Port of Tampa. Concrete islands surround the bridge’s piers to protect it from collisions.
“We are very excited about the bridge being included on a stamp,” says Linda Figg, president and CEO of Figg Engineering, in an email response to questions.
Figg’s website indicates the Sunshine Skyway was the first cable-stayed bridge in the United States to have a single plane of stays and single pylons. The dual elliptical piers are visually appealing and reduce drag, important in the hurricane-prone region.
American Bridge of Coraopolis, Pa., in a joint venture with Paschen Construction of Chicago and Morrison Knudsen Co. of Boise, Idaho, built the $244-million replacement Sunshine Skyway Bridge. American Bridge fabricated, erected and tensioned the stays, which are painted a bright yellow.
Portions at the north and south ends of the former 1971 bridge remain open as fishing piers. Steel and rubble from the destroyed center span, placed to form artificial reefs, attract a variety of fish.
Guess it’s time to head to the post office to buy a couple stamps with an image of one of our state’s architectural wonders. Or maybe I should head to the beach and visit the bridge in person again.