The importance of staying connected has been a constant drumbeat the past few months, underscoring every long-overdue phone call with friends and family and birthday celebrations held over Zoom.
There’s no better physical manifestation of the idea of connections than a bridge — and love them or hate them, the Tampa Bay area has plenty of them to go around. You may drive over them multiple times a day, but you may not have ever stopped to consider the impact out bridges have had on the region.
In 2006, our sister publication, South Tampa Magazine, took a deep dive into seven Tampa Bay-area bridges, and the feature quickly became a reader favorite. We’re revisiting the story here, with a few fact and figure updates for 2020.
Point of View: The Campbell Causeway
By Melissa Carroll
It’s no wonder the Courtney Campbell Causeway became Florida’s 14th road to earn scenic highway distinction in 2005. It boasts gorgeous views of Old Tampa Bay, recreational outlets, lush vegetation and plenty of sand. What’s most remarkable, though, are the low barriers along the roadway’s edge, placing those who travel across it as close to the water as possible.
This 9.5-mile stretch links Clearwater to Tampa along State Road 60, making the trip pleasant and effortless for beachgoers and commuters alike. Many recognize this as one of Tampa Bay’s major bridges, but most don’t know about its vibrant and controversial past.
In 1927, there was no direct connection between Clearwater and Tampa. Dredging contractor Ben T. Davis wanted to address this, so he obtained a franchise for the bridge. Davis constructed the causeway in his spare time, pumping sand into the water when business was slow and he wasn’t contracted for other projects. To say the least, it was not a quick process, but on January 28, 1934, Davis finally completed the Davis Causeway, which he owned and operated. At the time, it was the country’s largest water fill project. Davis’ ownership of the causeway wouldn’t last long.
In 1944, the federal government seized possession as part of the war effort, paying Davis roughly the same amount it cost to build it. Four years later (and two years after Davis died), the state’s road department renamed the causeway after board member Courtney W. Campbell, who was known for his widespread beautification efforts.
Today, the causeway is home to a variety of tropical plants and provides a natural sanctuary for many birds. Fishermen, joggers and beach enthusiasts regularly take advantage of its many recreational opportunities. “This is one of my favorite spots to unwind and take in the scenery,” local Alexis Bentivegna told South Tampa Magazine in 2006. “When I reach the causeway, I immediately feel at peace.”
As for Ben T. Davis?
The beach along the Tampa side of the causeway is named in his honor. But for Davis’ descendants, that’s not enough. They have passionately, yet unsuccessfully, tried to have the causeway changed back to its original name.
In 2015, the Courtney Campbell Trail was completed on the causeway’s south side, giving pedestrians and bicyclists cross-bay access from the Veterans Expressway on the Tampa side to Bayshore Boulevard on the Clearwater side. To address concerns about water quality north of the causeway, a 230-foot section of bridge was constructed in 2018 to allow water to pass and provide a direct tidal connection to Old Tampa Bay for the first time since the causeway was first built.
Carrying the Load: The Howard Frankland
By Andrea Ehringer
No local bridge carries as many cars as the Howard Frankland. And none has had as many nicknames. It has been called, among other things, the Howard Frankenstein, the How Weird Frankland, the Car Strangled Banner and Frankland’s Folly. But for the most part, those not-so-flattering monikers are a distant memory, as more than 177,000 vehicles travel across it every day.
Ironically, many at first didn’t see the need for the bridge. During the 1950s, some local business leaders, in fact, insisted the Gandy Bridge and Courtney Campbell Causeway were sufficient for travel between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. But William Howard Frankland, a Tampa businessman, banker and state road board member, thought otherwise. He fought a long battle for approval to build the bridge, and it finally opened on January 15, 1960.
At the start, however, it seemed plagued. Hazards — such as its opposing lanes separated by only a curb-high median, a 65-mph speed limit and the bridge’s lack of traffic lights — caused accident after accident. Soon, though, improvements were made to make it safer. A higher barrier was built to better separate traffic, the speed limit was lowered, and lights were installed.
Yet even then, the bridge faced a new problem: daily traffic jams.
No one could have predicted how much the area’s population would explode. The bridge was designed to carry 30,000 passengers a day but quickly exceeded that, and it wasn’t until 1983 that St. Petersburg and Tampa joined together again to build a wider structure to accommodate that growth.
During the groundbreaking of the new span in 1987, a motorist plowed into another car, causing the celebration to cease. Construction eventually continued as workers used 90,000 cubic yards of concrete, pre-stressed beams and steel rods to build the expansion. When the entire project was completed in 1993, the highest part rose 58 feet above the water, and the bridge’s size was doubled to four lanes each way, thus making for a more enjoyable trip across the bay.
This year, after more than a decade of delays, construction began on a massive expansion of the Howard Frankland. The four existing southbound lanes will convert to northbound lanes, while a new bridge will be constructed with general purpose southbound lanes, a pedestrian and bike trail on the outside, and two lanes for express bus service going in either direction in the center. FDOT says this new design can be adjusted to accommodate light rail in the future.
From Tragedy to Triumph: The Sunshine Skyway
By Keith Niebuhr
There is no greater area landmark. Miles away, from just about any direction, its gigantic bright yellow cables are recognizable as they reach for the sky. On a clear day from the top of its highest point, some 192 feet above the waters above Tampa Bay, one can see the skylines of St. Petersburg and Tampa to the east and miles out into the Gulf of Mexico to the west.
Beneath the massive structure, as you stare at the enormous support beams, large concrete pilings and huge openings through which gigantic ships pass, its immensity, grace and beauty are nothing short of overpowering.
The Sunshine Skyway isn’t just a bridge.
It’s far more than that.
By most accounts, it is a work of art.
“It’s a spectacular-looking bridge,” said former St. Petersburg/Clearwater film commissioner Jennifer Parramore, who helped organize film shoots on the Skyway, in 2006. “The vista on either side is magnificent, and nature doesn’t get a whole heck of a lot more dramatic.”
The bridge you see today is a modern masterpiece, a fusion of cutting-edge technology and elegance. Since opening 33 years ago, the Skyway, which cost $240 million to build (most of which was covered by the federal government) and took nearly five years to complete, has won dozens of engineering and design awards.
About 1,000 feet west of the Skyway, its predecessor stood for 26 years before disaster struck on May 9, 1980. On that fateful morning, the Summit Venture, a phosphate freighter, slammed into the center section of the old bridge’s southbound span. During a violent thunderstorm with near zero visibility, the ship knocked much of the roadway into Tampa Bay and sent 35 people plunging 150 feet to their deaths in what remains one of the worst bridge disasters in history.
Most of those who died were riding aboard a Greyhound bus bound for Miami. Rescue crews and divers sent to the scene immediately after hearing of the accident found only one survivor — a person whose truck, incredibly, landed on the deck of the Summit Venture. After the accident, traffic was rerouted onto the two-lane northbound span until the new bridge was completed.
With the sleeker, modernized Skyway, planners were determined to avoid future disasters. Designed by French engineer Jean Muller, the bridge is 42 feet higher at the top than the old one and was designed to survive winds of up to 135 miles per hour (newspaper articles printed around the time it opened say it withstood winds of 236 miles per hour in wind-tunnel tests). The Skyway has a total length of 4.1 miles, and its main span is 1,200 feet long.
The bridge’s eye-catching cables aren’t there purely for aesthetics. In fact, they hold the Skyway’s main span and are attached to two tall pylons. Large bumpers in the water (called dolphins) that protect the bridge from wayward vessels are driven 20 feet into the bottom of the bay and rise some 17 feet above the water. They’re made of concrete, steel and stone, which allows them to withstand a force two-thirds greater than what the Summit Venture produced when it hit the old bridge.
While the old Skyway was converted into fishing piers, complete with parking spaces, bait shops, restrooms, concession stands and lights, the new Skyway has become the Gulf Coast’s Golden Gate Bridge.
The towering structure, which is stunning at day or night, in sunshine, rain or even in the fog, has become a hot spot not only for locals, but also for producers of movies and commercials. Over the years, it has hosted many shoots, including one for the closing scene of The Punisher, a movie starring John Travolta, Thomas Jane and Rebecca Romijn, and another for The Great Bike Build Off, a series on the Discovery Channel.
Unfortunately, because of its height, the bridge has also been the site of a number of suicides throughout the years. This summer, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to begin installing a vertical net on the outside of the Skyway’s wall to deter suicide attempts.
Nonetheless, the Skyway stands tall. On the majestic blue waters of Tampa Bay, triumph came from tragedy, a masterpiece was erected, a landmark was created and an everlasting symbol emerged.
The Gandy Bridge
Opened in 1924 and conceived by George “Dad” Gandy, the Gandy Bridge was the first structure to link St. Petersburg with Tampa. In the 20 years after the 6-mile connector was completed, St. Petersburg’s population more than quadrupled.
By Andrea Ehringer
Imagine traveling 52 miles one way via automobile to get from St. Petersburg to Tampa, waiting hours to catch a ferry to cross the bay or spending an entire day on a train ride. If you lived here in the early 1920s, this was a fact of life.
Without a bridge connecting the cities, the trip from one city to the other was both time-consuming and exhausting. Back then, St. Petersburg had 14,237 residents and mostly unpromising real estate, but the building of the Gandy Bridge changed this.
Instead of dreading the commute to Tampa, people looked forward to it. The result was a boom for St. Petersburg, the likes of which the city had never seen.
George “Dad” Gandy, the man for whom the connection is named, was a Philadelphia contractor who devised and constructed the bridge. His dream of linking the cities took 1,500 workers, 3 million tons of concrete and more than two years to complete.
Once finished, though, it was a sensation. More than 30,000 people attended the November 24, 1924, ribbon-cutting ceremony (the largest celebration in the city’s history at that time) to celebrate the opening for what was then the world’s longest toll bridge. That afternoon, Gandy remarked, “The bridge is built. Two golden shores are now linked by a ribbon of silver.” The St. Petersburg Times went a step further, calling it “the greatest engineering accomplishment in Florida.”
People flocked from miles away to take the shortened trip to Tampa, which was now just 19 miles in length. Drivers waited in line to pay 75 cents, plus 10 cents per passenger; horse riders were charged 35 cents, and bikers paid 10 cents. In 1944, the toll was eliminated because it was considered a hindrance to the war effort.
After the bridge opened, the explosion of development began, and St. Petersburg thrived. Local property values skyrocketed, and Fourth Street North quickly urbanized with new homes and businesses.
Despite being rebuilt in 1956, the bridge continued to be weakened by barge and boat collisions. Because of this, the Florida Department of Transportation completed the third Gandy Bridge, built adjacent to the original structure, in 1997. Seventeen hours before a planned demolition of the 1956 span was set to begin, Pinellas and Hillsborough county commissioners agreed to split ownership of it, which halted its destruction. Instead, it became the Friendship TrailBridge.
The TrailBridge closed in 2008 when engineers found cracks in its lower span, and it was demolished in 2015. Currently, construction is underway on the Selmon Extension, a 1.9-mile toll lane in the median of Gandy Boulevard that will provide a direct connection between the Gandy Bridge and the Selmon Expressway. The project is expected to wrap up in mid 2021.