Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
BUILDING BIG LogoImage with 5 links within the image.
Bridge
BUILDING BIG Home Page BUILDING BIG Site Map BUILDING BIG Labs BUILDING BIG Databank BUILDING BIG Glossary
Bridges
Domes
Skyscrapers
Dams
Tunnels
Buy the DVD
_   Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Choose another wonder

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Click photo
for larger image.
Vital Statistics:
Location: St. Petersburg and Bradenton, Florida, USA
Completion Date: 1987
Cost: $244 million
Length: 29,040 feet
Type: Cable-Stayed
Purpose: Roadway
Materials: Steel, concrete
Longest Single Span: 1,200 feet
Engineer(s): Figg & Muller Engineering Group

Completed in 1987, the Sunshine Skyway is the world's longest cable-stayed concrete bridge. It is probably the best known of the several dozen cable-stayed bridges that have been built in the United States since the late 1970s. Its popularity may be due to its unique color -- its cables are painted a bright taxicab yellow -- but the bridge also boasts an interesting history.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Click photo
for larger image.

The Sunshine Skyway isn't the first bridge to span the broad mouth of the Tampa Bay. In fact, a four-mile steel cantilever bridge used to live where the new Sunshine Skyway now stands. But during a violent thunderstorm on the morning of May 9, 1980, the freighter Summit Venture plowed into the cantilever bridge. More than 1,000 feet of the bridge fell into the bay, killing 35 motorists and bus passengers instantly.

The Florida Department of Transportation began construction on a safer Sunshine Skyway Bridge only days later. more than 300 precast concrete segments were linked together with high-strength steel cables to form the roadway. Protecting the new bridge from ships was a big priority, so they installed large concrete islands, called dolphins, around each of the bridge's six piers to absorb unwanted impact. Since it opened to traffic in 1987, the sleek, new Sunshine Skyway has won dozens of engineering and design awards.

Here's how this bridge stacks up against some of the longest-spanning bridges in the world. (total length, in feet)
Chart showing the relative size of the longest bridges in the world
Sunshine Skyway Bridge 29,040'

Fast Facts:
  • The dolphins around each pier were designed to withstand the impact of an 87,000-ton ship.
  • Twenty-one steel cables support the roadway. The cables are sheathed in steel pipes, nine inches in diameter. The pipes were painted a brilliant yellow to reflect its location: the Sunshine State.
  • Forty-foot-wide roadways run on either side of the cables. This design allows drivers to have unobstructed views of the water.
  • Tampa is a busy shipping port. To ensure that navigation would not be blocked, engineers designed the bridge to soar 190 feet above the water.

  _
_