|03.13.17: opinion - Is FHP too quick to close the Skyway Bridge?|
heraldtribune.com, By Tom Lyons, Columnist
Casey Ingram has a reasonable commute to his business, most days.
From his house in northern Manatee County, he goes north on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and travels 18 miles to his flower shop in St. Petersburg. What better way to start a workday than with a pelican's-eye view of Tampa Bay?
But then there are those other days when it is stormy or foggy and when, Ingram would say, people should drive slower and be extra careful.
The thing is, they don't always have that option. On some of those days, someone at the Florida Highway Patrol instead decides that safety requires closing the Skyway Bridge to all traffic. That requires blocking multiple entrance ramps and usually results in long traffic backups and thousands of frustrated commuters, Ingram included.
Everyone agrees it is a mess whenever that happens. But safety first, right?
"We err on the side of caution," FHP spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins dutifully says every time he is asked about it.
That last thing the FHP wants is a terrible accident in which cars end up plunging into the bay, he told me. Policy calls for a shutdown as soon as sustained winds on the bridge hit 40 mph.
But could that policy maybe be changed to something like slowing the speed limit on the bridge in bad weather to, say, 20 mph? That would barely slow things down by comparison. Ingram would love that.
Gaskins says no, because not everyone would obey the speed limit.
"I'm sorry for his inconvenience, but I'm not going to sacrifice the safety of all the drivers," Gaskins said.
As is, Ingram's 18-mile commute becomes a 75-mile drive around and through Tampa on those days. He still has to cross the bay, on a different bridge but in the same weather, and often with far more traffic because of all the thousands of cars that were rerouted by the Skyway closing.
That's safer? Ingram, begs to differ.
"I submit that if safety is really the goal, then I and thousands of other drivers forced to drive 400 percent farther over unfamiliar routes and at the peak Tampa traffic times are put at far greater risk," he said in a letter he just handed me.
The Skyway Bridge is closed for weather-related reasons about three or four times per year, on average. Isn't that just what similar bridge users everywhere have to expect?
Ingram argues that it shouldn't be, and made a comparison with a better-known bridge to show that the FHP's "erring on the side of caution" thing is kind of extreme. He suggests we imagine the wind and fog that are famously part of San Francisco and how they impact the Golden Gate Bridge there.
That bridge, by the way, is 40 feet higher than the Skyway's 180-foot water clearance and has a much longer span over nothing but air and bay.
So how many times per year is the Golden Gate closed to traffic?
Year after year, the number, almost always, is zero.
Several historical websites report that since the Golden Gate opened in 1937, it closed for bad weather just three times. The most recent time I found was in 1983 when winds hit 75 mph. Even then, the bridge was closed for less than four hours.
In 2013, Tropical Storm Debbie's lesser winds closed the Skyway for three days. Fog closed it twice in the same week last year.
Could the FHP just maybe be erring a bit on the side of overdoing it?
(one might think that on windy/foggy days, the speed limit could be lowered and/or high profile vehicles are restricted, as needed.)
|02.07.17: Sunshine Skyway Bridge turns 30 years old.|
fox13news.com, TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Sunshine Skyway Bridge has become such a landmark symbol for the Tampa Bay Area that it's hard to imagine anything other than those giant yellow cables linking the bay. But 30 years ago, engineers were trying to reassure a jittery public about a brand-new bridge that had been born out of tragedy.
The current bridge -- now formally known as the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge -- was dedicated back on February 7, 1987. Crowds of people were invited to walk the span and get an up-close look at what was billed as the longest cable-stayed bridge in the western hemisphere.
Peering over the concrete walls that day, pedestrians could get a good look at the bridge's predecessor -- including what was left of the original bridge's southbound span, partially destroyed in a tragic barge collision.
The M/V Summit Venture slammed into one of the two original spans during a storm in 1980, sending a large section of the bridge -- and several vehicles -- plummeting into the bay. Thirty-five people died.
Five years and $230-million later, engineers went out of their way to assure drivers that the new bridge was safer than its predecessor. They cited the pier protection structures, the wider space between the supports, and the motorist warning system.
Before the bridge opened, FDOT allowed WTVT cameras inside the bridge deck to see the giant cables, along with the then-innovative concrete monitoring system.
"Personally, I've talked one on one with the people involved in this project -- the engineers, up to the highest level -- when no one was around. And I say, 'Really, tell me. Is it really going to be safe?' And they say, 'Without question.' This bridge has been overbuilt, if that's possible," Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson Holly Wagner boasted at the time.
Among those on hand to dedicate the new span was Wesley MacIntire, the lone driver to survive the Summit Venture tragedy. He seemed ready to move on, and the new bridge was a step in that direction.
"They want to forget the past, I would imagine. Everybody does. I want to forget it, too. But I figured seeing something new like this would be nice, and I feel like I'm part of the new bridge," he said.
Sen. Bob Graham, who championed construction of the bridge as governor, was the grand marshal of the dedication parade. He, too, spoke of the new bridge -- which would later bear his name -- rising out of the shadow of the tragedy.
"We have built a bridge here for the 21st Century," he proclaimed. "This is a statement that Florida is looking to its future."
The bridge officially opened to traffic a few weeks later, on April 20, 1987. Three decades later, FDOT says 58,000 drivers cross it everyday -- yet it appears to be holding up better than anyone could have hoped.
"We fully anticipate that it will last the hundred years that it was designed for," said Jim Jacobsen, an FDOT engineer. "Most of the maintenance we're doing now is really preventative maintenance. We're not playing catch-up. We're applying coatings that you can probably see when you cross the bridge now that keep the concrete seal from the salts in the air."
Jacobsen says the state-of-the-art materials have helped the bridge, which has a 180-foot clearance, stand the test of time.
"We're fortunate the concrete that was used 30 years ago was a newer-type concrete design and it's very dense concrete and it's really kept the salt water out of the concrete," he said. "The bridge is actually performing better than expected for its age."
fox13news.com photo gallery
WTVT reports from the dedication of the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge across the mouth of Tampa Bay. Originally aired February 7, 1987.
Sunshine Skyway Bridge turns 30 years old.
From 1987: Previewing the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge
From 1987: Inside the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
|09.28.16: Skipping the Skyway: Future Alternatives to Crossing the Bay.|
wtsp.com, When you drive to work during rush hour in any city, you can expect to get stuck in some traffic. You have probably figured out your best way to work; maybe you leave a little early to avoid the rush or you take an alternate route to avoid the busiest roads.
But what if the only option you have to get to work is a bridge that is infamous for closing?
Interstate 275 runs through Tampa Bay via the Sunshine Skyway bridge. It is the only roadway that directly connects Pinellas and Manatee counties. So far in 2016, the bridge has closed seven times. When 10News WTSP posted a story about the Skyway on its Facebook page, viewers had a lot to say. Many of them, for instance were fired up with how often it closes.
"Stop closing the bridge so much," wrote Jason Lemske.
"Quit closing it when it's windy!!!! Have the state troopers make the tractor-trailers turn around, but let us cross it at 25 mph," wrote Darly Haworth.
"There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the abundance of closures," noted Kathy Levin-Turner.
The Skyway closes for weather events like heavy fog and high winds. Because it's so high above the bay, it's not safe for vehicles to cross when winds are sustained at 40 mph or when fog drastically reduces visibility. The Florida Highway Patrol monitors weather conditions constantly and decides when to close the bridge.
Every viewer who commented on our Facebook post expressed frustration with the frequent closures. However, our problems with the Skyway are not as big as they feel. Out of the seven closures this year, two were for more than 24 hours during severe weather.
We did the math and the bridge has been closed for roughly 60 hours this year. There have been about 6,500 hours in the year as of the air date of this story, Sept. 27. So, the Skyway has been closed less than 1% of our time. That doesn't sound so bad, does it?
Of course, it is still a nuisance when the bridge does close. Drivers have to detour onto Interstate 75 through Hillsborough County, which can add an extra hour to the drive time. So, we took your suggestions to the Florida Department of Transportation to see if there will ever be another option to cross the Bay.
One of the most common solutions you brought up on Facebook is lowering the bridge, so it doesn't close so much for weather.
"Can we lower this bridge and use Port Manatee instead for the cruise ships?" asked Marinella Kirk.
We brought this question to Kristen Carson, FDOT spokesperson.
"When you talk about lowering a bridge, rebuilding a bridge, you're talking about millions if not billions of dollars. It is not something we're going to consider right now," said Carson.
You also proposed a tunnel that would go underneath Tampa Bay, a thought that's been considered before.
"We had that suggestion years ago and again that comes down to millions if not billions of dollars for a tunnel," said Carson.
Two of your solutions are actually possible.
"What IS needed is a ferryboat service between St. Pete and Manatee," wrote Robin Tice.
"I have not heard of one in the talks. Not to say that wouldn't happen in five to 10 years. Who knows?" said Carson.
In the next 10 or 20 years, there could actually be mass transit across the bay. FDOT is funding a two-year premium transit study right now for Tampa Bay. The department is working to determine where mass transit could be beneficial.
Carson also explained that once the Tampa Bay Express Project is complete, it will be easier for drivers to detour when the Skyway Bridge closes. Interstates in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties will have express lanes to allow drivers to bypass heavy traffic.
You can join in on the Sunshine Skyway bridge conversation on Road Warrior Hilary Zalla's Facebook page. Let us know what you think about the future of travel between Pinellas and Manatee counties.
|08.16.16: TRAFFIC WATCH - 444 days of bridge repairs ahead.|
fox13news, ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - Bridge repairs could impact the commutes of Bay Area drivers of the next few months.
The project includes repair and rehabilitation work on I-275, US 19, SR 55 and the Skyway Bridge.
The M&J Construction Company said it will commence work on the project toward the end of September and will last more than a year -- 444 working days, to be exact. They said they hope to have the project wrapped up by December, 2017, but Florida weather could slow the process.
Workers will be scheduled nearly round-the-clock, in an effort to wrap things up as quickly as possible.
The areas targeted for repair include:
- I-275 southbound over Bunce's Pass
- Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay
- Dick Misener Bridges southbound and northbound
The state Department of Transportation said the impact on commuters should be minimal and they do not expect delays.
|03.15+17.16: fog shuts down the skyway.|
wtsp.com, Closing Skyway Bridge is no easy task.
The Skyway Bridge has closed twice this week during morning rush hour because of heavy sea fog.
On Tuesday morning, the Florida Highway Patrol closed the bridge at 5:30 a.m. for about 8 hours. The department had to close the bridge again on Thursday morning from 5 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
It's no surprise drivers have been frustrated during morning rush hour as the Skyway is the only bridge connecting Manatee and Pinellas counties.
The Florida Highway Patrol told 10News WTSP it does not take the closure lightly, calling it a "massive project" with "lots of manpower." Two troopers have to be pulled in to shut down both the Manatee and Pinellas County sides and to clear out the rest areas. Even more, thousands of dollars is lost in revenue from the two toll plazas.
So, what are the conditions for the Skyway to close? According to FHP, there has to be sustained high winds of 40 mph or fog that limits visibility to less than 100 feet.
Unfortunately, there is no chance FHP will keep it open and hope drivers take it slow.
The reason? With visibility so low, there is a higher chance of an accident and the possibility of a car falling 200 feet into the Bay.
03.18.16, tampabay.com, More than 50,000 cars, and $60,000, did not pass through Skyway during fog closures, state says.
Aside from, perhaps, a few years on a few thousand commuters’ lives, what did the fog that closed the Sunshine Skyway bridge twice this week cost?
You know the deal by now. Warm, humid air met slightly cooler water. Together they made sea fog so thick that drivers on the Skyway would have seen less than 100 feet in front of them. So the Florida Highway Patrol shut the bridge down, for hours on Tuesday morning and then again on Thursday morning, just as commuters were flipping on their headlights, setting off lengthy detours and hefty traffic delays.
Some choice curse words later, everyone was (probably) where they needed to be.
But all of those people — on their way to work or school or the airport or the beach — did not pay their usual tolls to pass over the region’s signature bridge. A state Department of Transportation spokesman said an estimated total of 54,000 cars or trucks did not drive across the Skyway this week when the span was closed.
The resulting revenue loss? About $66,000, said the spokesman, David R Botello.
SunPass users pay $1.06 every time they pass over the bridge, and a dollar more for each additional axle. Cash payers dish out $1.25, and the same for each additional axle.
Friday morning, the fog was not so soupy, and the Skyway was open as usual.
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